Mon, 18 Nov 2019

Shelling and gunfire continued on October 18 in and around the northeast Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect overnight.

Smoke rose from the town that is at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, while elsewhere along the border calm appeared to prevail, with no fighting heard.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, reported sporadic clashes in Ras al-Ayn but relative calm elsewhere since late on October 17, when Ankara and Washington agreed to a five-day cease-fire to halt the Turkish offensive against Kurdish-led forces in the region.

Under the agreement, Kurdish fighters should vacate a swath of terrain in Syria along the Turkish border. That arrangement, reached after talks in Ankara between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, would largely consolidate the position Turkey has gained after days of fighting.

Kurdish forces have already been driven out of much, but not all, of a portion of territory that stretches some 100 kilometers along the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border, between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad.

Kurdish forces are still holed up in Ras al-Ayn, where they were battling Turkish-backed Syrian fighters trying to take over the city.

Turkey and its allied Syrian militias launched the offensive two days after President Donald Trump's surprise announcement that he was withdrawing U.S. forces from the border area.

The Kurds were U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, but Turkey says they are terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey since the 1980s.

In Washington, U.S. senators who have criticized Trump for his decision to withdraw American troops from the area said on October 17 that they would press ahead with legislation to impose sanctions against Ankara despite the cease-fire announcement.

Turkish media, quoting officials, said that Ankara got 'exactly what we wanted' from the talks with the United States, while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described the agreement as a break meant to permit the withdrawal of the Kurdish fighters.

He declined to call the agreement a 'cease-fire,' saying cease-fires could be agreed only by legitimate sides, and not by a Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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