Kurds evacuate Syrian town in first pullout after ceasefire

Elias Hubbard
October 21, 2019

Kurdish officials say their fighters have evacuated Ras al-Ayn, giving Turkey and its allies control of one of the border cities that has the brunt of fighting since Donald Trump's decision to withdraw United States troops from north-eastern Syria. Turkey said one of its soldiers was killed in the day's violence.

Khalil said a partial evacuation happened earlier Saturday from Ras al-Ayn after much stalling and with USA coordination.

Both sides have been accusing each other of violating the terms of the cease-fire and not following the agreement. "So we are not afraid", Kazan said when asked whether the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad had completely gone under the Turkish control.

On Saturday, Abdi said the United States was not doing enough to force Ankara to abide by the agreement, a day after Turkish-led bombardment killed 14 civilians.

The ministry said: "There are absolutely no impediments to the withdrawal" of Kurdish forces and "the activities of exiting and evacuation from the region are firmly coordinated with the USA counterparts".

An SDF withdrawal from Ras al-Ain would be a boost to the ceasefire, which came into effect on Thursday evening, but has been shaky ever since.

But now many Syrian Kurds say they are on the run from the Turkish-backed militants.

On Saturday, medical convoys were able to enter for the first time into neighbourhoods still in the hands of the Kurdish fighters, delivering medical supplies and bringing out 30 wounded and four dead. Khalil said the plan to complete the evacuation from Ras al-Ayn is now set for Sunday.

Turkey has to reach a deal with Russia as complemental to its agreement with the USA for the complete withdrawal of the YPG from its borders, but the intentions of the Russian side seem to be much more decisive in regards to the Turkish plans to create a safe zone in the said region.

He added that Turkey will discuss with Russian Federation, whose forces are fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the removal of Kurdish militia fighters from the Manbij and Kobani regions of Syria. Erdogan has warned that Turkey will resume the assault when the deadline expires on Tuesday if the SDF had not pulled back from the safe zone area.

Significant issues remain over the arrangements at the border.

In an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7, Cavusoglu said Turkey expected the YPG to be removed from areas where the Syrian government, backed by Moscow, has deployed in northern Syria.

USA officials have noted this plan remains fluid and can change at any time.

Ankara considers the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which forms the backbone of the SDF, a "terrorist" group linked to Kurdish separatists inside Turkey. Turkey also wants to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its soil in the border "safe zone".

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on October 19 that the approximately 1,000 troops being withdrawn from Syria would most likely be transferred to western Iraq to focus on the fight against IS.

Last week, Trump sent a letter to Erdoğan encouraging him to "work out a good deal", threatening to "destroy" the Turkish economy if he continued his aggression against the Kurds.

He added that despite the Turkish onslaught, Kurds were still guarding Islamic State prisoners, and he insisted his forces would rather still work with the US than fight it alone.

The border town of Kobani also stands between Turkish-controlled Syrian territories to the west and Kurdish-held eastern Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian town of Sochi on Tuesday.

"We don't have any more fighters in the city", Kino Gabriel the SDF spokesman said in a statement. "We want to create conditions that will be suitable for them to return where they will feel safe".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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