Clashes continue in NE Syrian town despite ceasefire announced by Turkey, US

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Armoured vehicles and soldiers of Turkish Armed Forces start to patrol between northern Syrian city of Manbij and Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield area on June 18, 2018. AFP PHOTOS

Fighting is continuing on the border between Syria and Turkey, according to witnesses, despite an announcement from US Vice President Mike Pence that Ankara had agreed to a five-day ceasefire to allow US supervision of the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from the area, The Guardian reported.

Intermittent artillery fire and ground clashes continued in the border town of Ras al-Ayn on Friday morning, one of the two main targets of the nine-day-old Turkish offensive, as the Turkish military and Syrian rebel proxies struggled to wrest control of the town from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday afternoon refuted the reports on ongoing clashes in the area.

Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the Turkish president in Ankara for hours of talks on Thursday afternoon, announcing afterwards that Turkey had agreed to suspend its operation in northeast Syria for 120 hours to allow the SDF to withdraw, potentially halting the latest bloodshed in Syria’s long war.

However, while the SDF commander, Mazloum Kobane, acknowledged the ceasefire, he said his fighters were ready to abide by it only in the border strip between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad, the other town under Turkish attack.

The Syrian regime and its Russian allies, who have also moved troops into the contested border zone at the invitation of the SDF, and are not bound by the terms of the US-Turkish agreement, had no immediate comment.

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring aimed at clearing the SDF from its border on Oct. 9, triggered by Donald Trump’s announcement that US troops would withdraw from the region, which removed the buffer that had stopped Turkey from attacking the Kurdish-led force.

Ankara maintains the SDF is indistinguishable from Turkey’s outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and has long been angered by US support for the group during the five-year-long campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

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