Fighting continues on Turkey-Syria border despite U.S.-led cease-fire – NBC News

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CEYLANPINAR, Turkey — Gunfire, grenades and mortars could be heard in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain on Friday despite a cease-fire drawn up by the United States and agreed Thursday night.

The agreement announced by Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara requires Turkey to suspend its military operations in northeast Syria for five days to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone.

NBC News staff could both see and hear mortars, grenades, machine-gun and rifle fire in Ras al-Ain — although it remains unclear who was responsible.

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — allies of the U.S. during the fight against ISIS — claimed on Friday that Turkish forces were not slowing down their assault.

“Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital Serêkaniyê/Ras al-Ayn,” Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the SDF, said in a tweet.

NBC News has not independently verified what groups were behind the attacks.

Smoke billows from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused were attacks continued Friday.Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, also claimed Turkish forces had renewed their bombardment of Ras al-Ain early Friday, disrupting the brief “cautious calm” achieved immediately after the cease-fire was called.

However, cross-border artillery and airstrikes seen ahead of the agreement appeared to have halted on Friday with the no outgoing fire seen from the Turkish side of the border.

Turkey’s invasion launched last week came just as President Donald Trump pulled U.S. troops from the area, a move that has been met with widespread criticism for being a seeming betrayal of Kurdish forces that are allied with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State.

Children gesture to the camera in Akcakale Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border with Syria on Friday.Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Turkey has also committed to a permanent cease-fire once the Kurds are cleared from the safe zone, but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised Pence and Trump in a tweet in response to the deal saying their combined efforts would help “defeat terrorism.”

“I am confident that this joint effort will promote peace and stability in our region,” Erdogan said.

However, Kurdish forces were not party to the agreement, and it was not immediately clear whether they would comply.

A spokesman for the SDF told the Associated Press on Friday that its troops would not withdraw in accordance to the cease-fire because Ras al-Ain remained under attack.

Mac William Bishop reported from Ceylanpinar, Turkey, and Linda Givetash from London.

Image: Mac BishopMac William Bishop

Mac William Bishop is a London-based multimedia producer covering international news.

Linda Givetash

Linda Givetash is a reporter based in London. She previously worked for The Canadian Press in Vancouver and Nation Media in Uganda. 

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