Turkish-backed forces, Kurds clash despite Syria cease-fire

A child stands near the border crossing with Syria, in the border town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The cease-fire in northern Syria got off to a rocky start Friday, as Kurdish leaders accused Turkey of violating the accord with continued fighting at a key border town while casting doubt on provisions in the U.S.-brokered deal with Ankara. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

A war monitor says Turkish-backed Syrian fighters crossed the border from Turkey and attacked a Kurdish-held town amid continued fighting nearly two days after a cease-fire was declared in northeast Syria

AKCAKALE, Turkey — Turkish-backed Syrian fighters clashed with Kurdish-led forces in several parts of northeastern Syria on Saturday, with some crossing the border from Turkey to attack a village, a war monitor said. Both sides blamed each other for fighting that has rattled the U.S.-brokered cease-fire.

Nearly two days into the five-day halt in fighting, the two sides were still trading fire around the key border town of Ras al-Ayn. There has also been no sign of a withdrawal of Kurdish-led forces from positions along the Syrian-Turkish border as called for under the agreement, reached between Turkey and the United States.

Turkey's Defense Ministry said it was "completely abiding" by the accord and that it was in "instantaneous coordination" with Washington to ensure the continuity of calm. The ministry accused Kurdish-led fighters of carrying out 14 "attacks and harassments" the past 36 hours, most in the town of Ras al-Ayn, which is besieged by allied fighters before the cease-fire. It said the Syrian Kurdish fighters used mortars, rockets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank heavy machine guns.

Turkey also said Saturday said it has recaptured 41 suspected Islamic State members who had fled a detention camp amid the chaos caused by the fighting earlier this week.

The Kurds, meanwhile, appealed to Vice President Mike Pence to enforce the deal saying Turkey has failed to abide by its provisions and has continued the siege of Ras al-Ayn.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said there were still clashes inside Ras al-Ayn and medical personnel could not enter to help the wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish-backed fighters entered Syria and advanced into Kurdish-held Shakariya, a village east of Ras al-Ayn that saw clashes and a Turkish strike a day earlier.

Video posted online showed the fighters driving alongside the wall Turkey has erected along the border and boasting that they were headed on "an assault" into Syria. The video did not show them crossing the border.

Syrian state media said Turkish-backed fighters also made an "infiltration attempt" south of Ras al-Ayn but were repelled in clashes with the Syrian government military that had just moved into the area. The reports gave no further details.

The Observatory said Saturday that Turkey-backed Syrian fighters have prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn. It said a medical convoy arrived outside the town Friday but Turkey-backed factions closed the road ahead and behind, leaving it stuck outside Ras al-Ayn.

The agreement — reached in negotiations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence — would virtually hand Turkey its aims in the invasion, requiring Kurdish fighters to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border during the cease-fire.

The Kurdish-led force, which said it was in contact with the Americans during the negotiations, said it will abide by the halt in fighting but has not committed to any pull-out. Erdogan warned Friday that Turkey will relaunch its assault on Tuesday when the deal runs out if the Kurdish fighters don't pull out of a zone 30 kilometers (20-miles) deep running the entire length of the border.

On Saturday, the Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 41 suspected Islamic State members were re-captured after fleeing a detention camp amid fighting earlier this week in Syria. He said 195 other suspected IS members had already been recaptured. He said the captured IS suspects would be relocated to areas controlled by Turkey in northern Syria, including Afrin and al-Bab.

Last week, there were reports that after a Turkish shell landed near Ein Issa camp that holds members of IS families, more than 700 managed to flee amid the chaos.

Turkey's state-run English language broadcaster TRT World said the IS members and families were captured by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces.

Erdogan has accused Syrian Kurdish forces of releasing some 750 IS members and families, amid Turkey's offensive. The Kurds say they broke out of their camp a week ago, attacking guards, amid heavy clashes and Turkish airstrikes nearby.

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El Deeb reported from Beirut. Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.

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