The Latest: Syria Kurds say they will withdraw from border
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria (all times local):
A senior Syrian Kurdish official says his forces will pull back from a border area in accordance with a U.S.-brokered deal after Turkey allows the evacuation of its remaining fighters and civilians from a besieged town there.
Redur Khalil, a senior Syrian Democratic Forces official, said Saturday the plan for evacuation from the town of Ras al-Ayn is set for the following day, if there are no delays.
He says only after that will his force pull back from a 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal-Aybad. It will withdraw and move back from the border 30 kilometers (19 miles).
This is the first time the Kurdish force has publicly acknowledged it will withdraw from the border, saying it has coordinated it with the Americans. The agreement has not specified the area of its pullback.
Previous agreements between the U.S. and Turkey over a “safe zone” along the Syria-Turkish border floundered over the diverging definitions of the area.
Khalil said a partial evacuation happened earlier Saturday from Ras al-Ayn after much stalling and with U.S. coordination.
A U.S. official says America is continuing to withdraw troops from Syria.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says a couple hundred have left. They are largely consolidated in one location in the west and a few locations in the east.
About 1,000 U.S. forces were previously deployed in parts of northeast Syria alongside Kurdish-led forces, but President Donald Trump abruptly announced he would withdraw them, opening the way for Turkey’s military offensive into the area.
The official also says the U.S. is aware of ongoing violations of the cease-fire but the military is not closely monitoring the agreement. The official said it will still take a couple weeks to get forces out of Syria.
—By Lolita C. Baldor.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman says he was stunned by the tone and content of a recent letter from Donald Trump.
In the Oct. 9 letter, Trump urged Erdogan to act in a humane way in Syria and warned him that the world “will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”
Ibrahim Kalin, a senior adviser to Erdogan, told The Associated Press that he received the letter and presented it to his boss.
Kalin said: “I personally was very surprised by the tone, the style of it. But also, more so by its content.”
He said Erdogan “asked me to convey our message to the Americans that we reject this letter completely in its style as well as in its substance.”
Kalin said Turkey’s response to the letter came later that day when it launched its air and ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria.
Erdogan on Friday said he and Trump share “love and respect,” but also told reporters he would not forget the letter and “do what’s necessary” about it, without elaborating.
The spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey wants Syrian government forces to move away from a border area so it can resettle up to 2 million refugees.
Ibrahim Kalin told The Associated Press in an interview that Erdogan will raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday.
Syrian government forces have moved into some border areas as part of a deal with Kurdish fighters who are being targeted by Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria. That has complicated Turkey’s plan to create a “safe zone” south of its border with Syria where it would resettle Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. The territory had previously been vacated by U.S. troops.
Kalin said the refugees “don’t want to go back to areas under regime control.”
He says: “This is one of the topics that we will discuss with the Russians, because, again, we are not going to force any refugees to go to anywhere they don’t want to go. We want to create conditions that will be suitable for them to return where they will feel safe.”
A senior Turkish official is denying that the Turkish military is blocking the withdrawal of Syrian Kurdish fighters from the border areas following a U.S. brokered cease-fire.
The official said Saturday that Ankara got “everything we wanted at the negotiating table” in talks with Vice President Mike Pence.
“It is bizarre to think that we’d violate an agreement that we like,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kurdish fighters say they can’t withdraw from Ras al-Ayn, a town at the border with Turkey, because Turkish-backed fighters have besieged them and prevented the evacuation of the wounded.
On Saturday, a medical convoy was allowed into the town, evacuating nearly 40 wounded. Activists said others remain in need of evacuation in a hospital controlled by the Kurdish forces.
— By Sarah El Deeb.
Activists say a medical convoy including the Syrian and Kurdish Red Crescent has entered the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, which has been besieged for days by Turkish-led forces, and it delivered aid and evacuated wounded.
Dani Ellis, a volunteer in northeast Syria who travelled with the convoy, says Turkish-backed fighters opened a corridor Saturday for the convoy to reach a hospital and surrounding neighborhoods still controlled by Kurdish-fighters at the southeast edge of Ras al-Ayn.
She said fighting in the town the past three days had been intense but as they entered the town only a few shots in the distance were heard. The hospital was dark and without electricity. Kurdish-led forces have complained that Turkey was violating the U.S.-brokered ceasefire by continuing the siege and assault on Ras al-Ayn and preventing the evacuation of wounded.
The convoy of about 20 ambulances delivered basic supplies and brought out 37 wounded civilians, medical personnel and fighters, but did not have space to evacuate all the wounded. Most had gunshot injuries.
A convoy of the Turkish Red Cross also said it entered Ray al-Ayn on Saturday evening, delivering supplies
The Turkish Red Crescent says it has delivered humanitarian aid to hundreds of people in the town of Ras al-Ayn in northern Syria following Turkey’s military offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces.
The humanitarian organization said it delivered food aid to 2,000 people. Video showed Turkish soldiers and Turkey-backed Syrian forces as people lined up for aid packs.
Turkish Red Crescent and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency staff delivered the aid.
Turkey launched its operation into northeastern Syria last week against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which it calls terrorists.
A 120-hour cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Turkey was mostly holding on its second day, despite accusations of violations from both the Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkey.
A war monitor group says Turkey-backed Syrian fighters have clashed in several locations with Kurdish forces, in possible violations of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire in northern Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that the Turkish proxy forces crossed into Syria east of Ras al-Ayn to a village where clashes have been ongoing since Friday.
Washington brokered a five-day cease-fire late Thursday meant to slow down a Turkish offensive on the Kurdish-held region across the border.
Ankara wants the Kurdish forces to vacate a large zone along its borders.
On Saturday, Syrian state media said Syrian government forces — newly deployed south of Ras al-Ayn to boost Syrian Kurdish attempts to fend off the invasion — have clashed with the Turkish-backed forces.
Turkey’s interior minister says 41 suspected Islamic State members were re-captured after fleeing a detention camp earlier this week in Syria, amid heavy fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces.
Suleyman Soylu said that 195 other suspected IS members had already been re-taken.
His comments were carried by Turkish television on Saturday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Syrian Kurdish forces of releasing some 750 IS members and families, amid Turkey’s offensive.
Private IHA news agency said the Turkish nationals among the re-captured were brought over to Turkey in vans, where Erdogan said they would be imprisoned and tried.
Turkey’s state-run English language broadcaster TRT World said the IS members and families were captured by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces. The foreign nationals, many of them Europeans, would be transferred to a Turkey-controlled zone in northern Aleppo, according to the broadcaster.
Syrian Kurdish forces say Turkey is failing to abide by terms of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire, refusing to lift a siege it imposed on a key border town in northeastern Syria 30 hours after the truce went into effect.
The Syrian Democratic Forces called Saturday on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who negotiated the deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to take responsibility for enforcing the five-day cease-fire.
The cease-fire got off to a rocky start, with sporadic fighting and shelling around Ras al-Ayn Friday. The border town is a test for the deal in which Turkey asks that Kurdish fighters vacate the frontier zone.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that Turkey-backed Syrian fighters have prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn since Friday.