Kurds evacuate Syrian town in first pullout after ceasefire – Newspaper

AKCAKALE: Dozens of vehicles left a besieged Syrian border city, evacuating Kurdish fighters and civilians and opening the way for Turkey-backed forces to take over the first setback under a three-day-long ceasefire negotiated by the United States .

Kurdish officials say that the evacuation of the city of Ras al-Ayn will be followed by the withdrawal of their forces from a wider section of the border with Turkey, a central requirement of the ceasefire agreement.

The withdrawal is supposed to take place before Tuesday night, when the pause in the fight is about to end.

Still, there are questions about long-term agreements. Turkey says it wants a "safe zone" free of Kurdish fighters whom it considers terrorists across the northeast border. That is much longer than the territory that the Kurds will leave under the terms of the agreement.

The Trump administration negotiated the deal after strong criticism in the country and abroad that it had opened the way for the Turkish invasion by abruptly withdrawing its soldiers from northeastern Syria. That movement abandoned the Kurdish-led force, which allied with the Americans in the bloody campaign of years that brought down the government of the Islamic State group over almost a third of Syria.

At the moment, the withdrawal focused on Ras al-Ayn, a city that has been an important battle zone since Turkey launched its invasion on October 9.

Kurdish civilians also flee

The ceasefire agreement only requires combatants to leave.

But Kurdish civilians also fled in the convoy, fearing the atrocities of Syrian forces backed by Turkey. Those fighters, who are Arab extremists and often Islamists, have been charged with murders of Kurdish civilians and fighters captured during this campaign and in other Syrian territory captured in Turkish campaigns since 2017.

This flight of civilians is likely to be repeated in other areas from which combatants withdraw, although most have already fled their homes in the last days of fighting.

Turkish television showed on Sunday a line of vehicles circulating in agricultural areas outside the city. The Turkish army said at least 86 vehicles were involved. The convoys passed through open corridors by forces backed by Turkey and headed to the city of Tal Tamr, further south.

A senior official of the Kurdish-led forces, Redur Khalil, said the evacuation was completed in the afternoon. "Now we have no fighters inside the city," he said. The withdrawal in other places had not yet begun, he added.

The Kurds had been hiding for days in a small pocket at the southern end of the city, surrounded by fighters backed by Turkey and faced each other long after the start of the ceasefire. The SDF said 16 of their fighters had died and three were injured in the last 24 hours.

Turkish soldier killed

Both parties accuse each other of repeatedly violating the three-day ceasefire. Turkey's Defense Ministry said one of its soldiers died Sunday in a Kurdish attack with anti-tank weapons and small arms fire near the border town of Tal Abyad.

That brought the death toll of the Turkish army to seven soldiers since it launched its offensive on October 9.

There are still major problems about border arrangements. A previous agreement between the United States and Turkey on a "safe zone" along the Syrian-Turkish border failed on divergent definitions of the area.

Erdogan has said that Kurdish fighters must withdraw from the entire northeastern border of the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, more than 440 kilometers away.

Another question is what will be the agreement along the rest of the northeastern border, most of which remains solely in the hands of fighters led by the Kurds.

Posted on Dawn, October 21, 2019

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1512079/kurds-evacuate-syrian-town-in-first-pullout-after-ceasefire

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