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Shelling heard in Syrian Kurdish town despite US-Turkish ceasefire deal

Ozan Kose, AFP | This picture taken on October 17, 2019 from the Turkish side of the border with Syria in the Ceylanpinar district city of Sanliurfa shows smoke and fire rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain during the Turkish offensive against Kurdish groups in northeastern Syria.

Although the USA and Turkey have agreed on Thursday to a cease-fire in the Turks' deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, shelling and gunfire were heard around the northeast Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, by the Turkish border, on Friday.

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Associated Press journalists reported seeing continued fighting in this Syrian town at the centre of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, which have also been reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. "There are sporadic artillery strikes and you can hear shooting in the town of Ras al-Ain," said Rami Abdul Rahman, its head.

The Britain-based war monitor also reported that five civilians had been killed in a Turkish air strike on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain.

Hours earlier, the deal was nevertheless praised by US President Donald Trump, who said it was "a great day for civilization" and that it would save "millions of lives", while Turkey cast it as a complete victory

The truce was announced some 13 hours earlier by US Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey agreed to the five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia withdraw from a "safe zone" Ankara had sought to capture.

Humanitarian costs

If implemented, the deal would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched its assault on October 9: Control of a strip of Syria more than 30km deep, with the SDF forces obliged to pull out. The latter were US allies in the years' long fight against Islamic State.

Republican and Democratic senators accused Trump of having betrayed the Kurdish allies who were vital in fighting Islamic State group militants, of brushing aside the humanitarian costs of Turkey's invasion and of being outwitted by Ankara.

It was unclear what if any damage came from the shelling heard on Friday.

Kurds say will refuse to live under Turkish ‘occupation’

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”.

It is still unclear whether the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will comply with the agreement, which would leave Turkish forces in charge of a swathe of territory that the Kurds once held with US military support.

Kurdish fighters have already been driven out of much – but not all – of a swath of territory that stretches about 100 kilometres along the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border, between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.

The deal’s effect was largely seen as to mitigate a foreign policy crisis considered to be of Trump's own making. Turkish troops and their allied Syrian fighters launched the offensive two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American troops from the border area.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)

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