Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkey exchange blame for continued fighting
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Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkey exchange blame for continued fighting

Clashes reported in key border town of Ras al-Ayn as Turkish interior minister says 41 suspected jihadists who fled detention camp have been recaptured

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters on an armoured personnel carrier drive to cross the border into Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, October 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters on an armoured personnel carrier drive to cross the border into Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, October 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) — Syrian Kurdish-led forces and Turkey exchanged blame on Saturday for fighting that has rattled a US-brokered cease-fire in northeastern Syria, as the Kurds appealed to Vice President Mike Pence to enforce the deal.

The Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that Turkey has failed to abide by the deal, refusing to lift the siege of Ras al-Ayn, a key border town. It said 30 hours after the five-day pause went into effect on Thursday, there were still reported clashes inside the town and medical personnel could not enter to help wounded.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters encircled Ras al-Ayn just before the cease-fire came into place, trying to crush Kurdish resistance inside. Throughout much of the day Friday, fighting was reported there and in neighboring villages that came under attack by the Turkish-backed forces.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that Turkey-backed Syrian fighters have prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn since Friday. It said a medical convoy arrived outside the town but Turkey-backed factions closed the road ahead and behind, leaving it stuck outside Ras al-Ayn.

In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from a fire in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, October 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Saturday it was “completely abiding” by the accord. It accused Kurdish-led fighters carried out 14 “attacks and harassment” the past 36 hours, most in Ras al-Ayn. It said the Syrian Kurdish fighters used mortars, rockets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank heavy machine guns.

The ministry also said it was in “instant coordination” with the United States to ensure the continuity of calm, excluding instances of “self-defense.”

The agreement — reached in negotiations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence — virtually hands Turkey its aims in the invasion, requiring Kurdish fighters to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border during the cease-fire.

The Kurdish-led force, which had only a nominal, indirect role in the deal, said it will abide by the halt in fighting but has not committed to any pullout. Erdogan warned Friday that Turkey will relaunch its assault on Tuesday when the deal runs out if the Kurdish fighters don’t pull out of a zone 30 kilometers (20-miles) deep running the entire length of the border.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 41 suspected Islamic State members were recaptured after fleeing a detention camp amid fighting earlier this week in Syria. He said 195 other suspected IS members had already been retaken.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses an African Muslim Religious Leaders Summit, in Istanbul, October 19, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool )

His comments were carried by Turkish television on Saturday.

Erdogan has accused Syrian Kurdish forces of releasing some 750 IS members and families, amid Turkey’s offensive. The Kurds say they broke out of their camp a week ago, attacking guards, amid heavy clashes and Turkish airstrikes nearby.

Turkey’s state-run English language broadcaster TRT World said the IS members and families were captured by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces. The foreign nationals, many of them Europeans, would be transferred to a Turkish-controlled zone in northern Aleppo, according to the broadcaster.

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