Fighting in Kurdish-held Syrian town resumes despite ceasefire
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Fighting in Kurdish-held Syrian town resumes despite ceasefire

Shelling and billowing smoke seen around Ras al-Ayn, accompanied by sound of gunfire

This picture taken on October 18, 2019 from the Turkish side of the border in Ceylanpinar shows smoke rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain on the first week of Turkey's military operation against Kurdish forces. (Ozan KOSE / AFP)
This picture taken on October 18, 2019 from the Turkish side of the border in Ceylanpinar shows smoke rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain on the first week of Turkey's military operation against Kurdish forces. (Ozan KOSE / AFP)

CEYLANPINAR, Turkey (AP) — Associated Press journalists witnessed continued fighting Friday morning in a northeast Syrian town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, despite a US-brokered ceasefire that went into effect hours earlier.

Shelling and billowing smoke could be seen around Ras al-Ayn accompanied by the sound of gunfire. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported intermittent clashes in the Ras al-Ayn but relative calm elsewhere since Thursday night. That’s when Turkey and the US agreed to a five-day ceasefire to halt the Turkish offensive against Kurdish-led forces in the region. AP journalists also reported quiet in the town of Tal Abyad.

The agreement — reached after hours of negotiations in Turkey’s capital of Ankara between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence — requires the Kurdish fighters to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border. That largely solidifies the position Turkey has reached in its offensive, now in its tenth day.

The fighting Friday came even after the commander of Kurdish-led forces in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, told Kurdish TV late on Thursday: “We will do whatever we can for the success of the cease-fire agreement.” But one Kurdish official, Razan Hiddo, declared that the Kurdish people would refuse to live under Turkish occupation.

A woman stands along the side of a road on the outskirts of the town of Tal Tamr near the Syrian Kurdish town of Ras al-Ayn along the border with Turkey in the northeastern Hasakeh province on October 16, 2019, with the smoke plumes of tire fires billowing in the background to decrease visibility for Turkish warplanes during the continuing deadly cross-border Turkish offensive against Syria’s Kurdish forces that has sparked an international outcry. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

Kurdish fighters have already been driven out of much — but not all — of a swath of territory that stretches about 100 kilometers (60 miles) along the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border, between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad.

But Kurdish forces are still entrenched in Ras al-Ayn, where they were fiercely battling Turkish-backed Syrian fighters trying to take the town Thursday. Whether the Kurdish fighters pull out of Ras al-Ayn will likely be an early test of the accord.

Turkish troops and their allied Syrian fighters launched the offensive two days after US President Donald Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American troops from the border area.

The Kurds were US allies in the fight against the Islamic State but came under assault after Trump ordered US troops to pull out.

Trump framed the US-brokered cease-fire deal with Turkey as “a great day for civilization” but its effect was largely to mitigate a foreign policy crisis widely seen to be of his own making.

Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

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