AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) – Syrian Kurdish-led forces and Turkey exchanged blame on Saturday for fighting that shook a US-mediated ceasefire in northeastern Syria, while Kurds appealed to Vice President Mike Pence to enforce the deal.
Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that Turkey had not complied with the agreement, refusing to lift the siege of Ras al-Ayn, a major border town. According to the newspaper, 30 hours after the five-day break came into force on Thursday, there were still conflicts in the city and medical staff could not come in to help the injured.
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters surrounded Ras al-Ayn just before the ceasefire, trying to crush the Kurdish resistance inside. For most of the day on Friday, fighting was reported there and in neighboring villages that were attacked by Turkish-backed forces.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that Turkish-backed Syrian fighters had prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn since Friday. He said a medical convoy arrived outside the city, but Turkish-backed factions closed the road ahead and behind, leaving it trapped outside Ras al-Ayn.
Turkey's Ministry of Defense said on Saturday it was "fully complying" with the deal. He accused Kurdish-led fighters of having carried out 14 "attacks and harassment" in the past 36 hours, mostly in Ras al-Ayn. According to him, Syrian Kurdish fighters used mortars, rockets, anti-aircraft machine guns and anti-tanks.
The ministry also said it was in "instant coordination" with the United States to ensure continued calm, excluding "self-defense" cases.
The deal – reached in talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence – practically delivers to Turkey its objectives in the invasion, requiring Kurdish fighters to vacate a strip of territory in Syria along the Turkish border during the ceasefire.
The Kurdish-led force, which had only an indirect nominal role in the deal, said it would meet the disruption of the fighting but did not commit to giving up. Erdogan warned on Friday that Turkey would relaunch its attack on Tuesday, when the deal ends, if Kurdish fighters do not leave a 30-kilometer-deep zone that runs the full length of the border.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 41 suspected members of the Islamic State were captured again after fleeing a detention camp amid fighting earlier this week in Syria. He said 195 other suspected IS members have already been re-captured.
His comments were broadcast on Turkish television on Saturday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syrian Kurdish forces of releasing about 750 IS members and families amid Turkey's offensive. Kurds say they left camp a week ago, attacking guards amid heavy clashes and Turkish air strikes nearby.
Turkey's English-speaking state broadcaster TRT World said IS members and families were captured by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces. The foreigners, many of them Europeans, would be relocated to a Turkey-controlled zone in northern Aleppo, the station said.
El Deeb reported from Beirut. Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.
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