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Kurdish forces evacuate besieged Syrian town as part of Turkey ceasefire

運営事務局 JIMOPLE 16 October 21, 2019
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(CNN)Kurdish troops belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have withdrawn from the key border town of Ras al-Ain as part of a US-brokered ceasefire agreement with Turkey.

SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel said in a statement Sunday that all of the Kurdish-led group's fighters had left the embattled center -- the same day the largest US troop withdrawal from Syria began.

"We don't have any more fighters in the city," the statement said.

The 120-hour ceasefire deal brokered between US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for the withdrawal of SDF forces from what Turkey calls a "safe zone" along its border in northeast Syria.

Erdogan has warned that Turkey's offensive would resume if the US does not deliver on its guarantee to get Syrian Kurdish fighters out of the area by Tuesday night.

The Turkish government insists the agreement is only a "pause" on operations in the region to allow Kurdish fighters to leave -- and not a ceasefire.

Turkey considers the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) that make up the backbone of the SDF to be the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey and the US classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.

On Saturday, dozens of injured people were evacuated from Ras al-Ain in a humanitarian convoy after it was granted permission to enter the besieged town.

The SDF previously charged Turkey -- or the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) -- with blocking the evacuation of their civilians, the wounded and fighters from the town.

On Sunday, a Turkish Ministry of Defense statement said, "there hasn't been any obstruction" -- and the evacuation process was being closely coordinated with US counterparts.

Aid worker David Eubanks of the Free Burma Rangers, who was part of the convoy, spoke to CNN in a phone call from northeast Syria. "We have been trying for days -- finally a humanitarian corridor opened and we were surprised. Free Syrian Army checkpoint let us pass and we went directly into the hospital, evacuated 37 and some of the dead," he said.

The SDF accused Turkey Saturday of continuing to violate the ceasefire and urged the Trump administration to force the creation of a humanitarian corridor,.

It said in a statement that attacks from the Turkish military and Turkish-backed militants resulted in "16 martyrs and three wounded in our ranks" in a 24-hour period.

Turkish forces and their allies continued to attack Syrian villages despite agreeing to the ceasefire, according to the statement, which added that Turkish forces had targeted villages near Ras al-Ain "by aerial bombardments and brought in more troops and preparations for the ceasefire areas."

The Turkish Defense Ministry accused the SDF of 20 cases of harassment fire and violations of the five-day agreement. Light weapon and antitank fire killed one Turkish soldier and wounded another early Sunday, the ministry said in a statement. "We have responded in kind within the right to self defense," the statement added.

However speaking to reporters aboard a US military aircraft en route to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the ceasefire "generally seems to be holding" despite "reports of intermittent fires." He would not say who was committing those violations.

Largest US troops withdrawal from Syria

The Kurdish movement came as the largest US troop withdrawal from Syria began Sunday -- marking a symbolic end to the major American presence in the region.

Almost 500 US personnel were part of a troop convoy moving through northern Syria, a US official told CNN. The convoy departed an airfield just outside the Syrian city of Kobani.

Hundreds of trucks carrying American troops were observed by CNN gathering near Hasakah, Syria, en route east to the border with Iraq.

The US has about 1,000 soldiers in Syria, military officials have told CNN. Secretary of Defense Esper said those troops are withdrawing via helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and ground convoys, and will "reposition into western Iraq."

The troops are being deployed to two missions, "one is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps," Esper said. He added that the full withdrawal from Syria would take weeks.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump is reportedly leaning toward approving a new Pentagon plan to keep a small contingent of US troops in eastern Syria, according to the New York Times.

The Times cited a senior administration official as saying there could be 200 Special Operations forces remaining in Syria to combat ISIS and block the advance of Syrian government and Russian forces into the region's oil fields.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment but has yet to hear back.

Late Sunday, Kurdish leader Ilham Ahmed landed in Washington, DC, for what her office told CNN are meetings with officials from the Trump administration and others on the future of northern Syria.

Ahmed is a Syrian-Kurdish politician and the head of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC).

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Barbara Starr, Jonny Hallam, Gul Tuysuz, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Ingrid Formanek, Kareem Khadder, and Jaide Garcia contributed to reporting.

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