Deadly Turkish air strikes Friday shattered an hours-old US-brokered deal to stop Ankara’s military offensive against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.
The ceasefire announced late Thursday was meant to provide a pause for the evacuation of Kurdish fighters from the battleground border town of Ras al-Ain and other areas Turkey wants to control along its border with Syria.
The five-day suspension looked designed to help Turkey achieve its main territorial goals without fighting but its Syrian proxies continued to clash with Kurdish fighters Friday and an air strike killed five civilians.
‘Five civilians were killed in Turkish air strikes on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain,’ Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.
The Britain-based war monitor said four fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces — the de facto army of the embattled Kurdish autonomous region — were killed in the strike.
The incident took place even as a 200-vehicle convoy headed towards Ras al-Ain to evacuate civilians who have been virtually besieged there since the start of Turkey’s cross-border assault on October 9.
Mustefa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, said Turkey was clearly violating the terms of the agreement reached during a Thursday visit to Ankara by US Vice president Mike Pence.
‘Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital’ in Ras al-Ain, he said.
Under the deal, Kurdish forces are required to withdraw from a border strip 20 miles deep, clearing the way for a ‘safe zone’ sought by Turkey.
The Turkish military and its Syrian proxies — mostly Arab and Turkmen former rebels used as a ground force — have so far seized around 70 miles of territory along the border.
More than 500 people have been killed on the two sides, including nearly 100 civilians, while around 300,000 have been displaced, according to the Observatory.
Kurdish forces have put up fierce resistance in Ras al-Ain, with a network of tunnels, berms and trenches that held off the Turkish onslaught for a week.
Ankara considers the Kurdish forces to be ‘terrorists’ linked to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.
Turkish forces and their allies had taken control of half of Ras al-Ain on Thursday when its hospital was hit, trapping patients and staff inside.
Kurdish authorities sent a medical team to rescue the wounded but it was prevented from entering the town, said Hassan Amin, a director of the hospital in nearby Tal Tamr.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday as president Donald Trump’s policy changes on Syria sparked concern among Israelis.
Pompeo arrived in Israel after he and US Vice president Mike Pence negotiated a deal that will see Turkey suspend its Syria offensive, but which drew criticism over what many saw as an abandonment of Washington’s Kurdish allies.
Washington’s top diplomat and the veteran prime minister began the meeting on Friday morning at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.
Israelis have been watching Trump’s decisions on Syria closely, concerned that their country too could be abandoned by its most important ally.
The Turkish offensive has also been widely criticised, with videos surfacing online allegedly showing captured fighters and civilians being executed.
On Friday, Amnesty International accused Ankara’s forces and their proxies of ‘serious violations and war crimes, summary killings and unlawful attacks’.
‘Turkish military forces and a coalition of Turkey-backed Syrian armed groups have displayed a shameful disregard for civilian life,’ Amnesty said.
The charges were based on the testimony of 17 people including medical, aid and rescue workers, journalists and displaced people, as well as video footage, it said.
‘The information gathered provides damning evidence of indiscriminate attacks in residential areas, including attacks on a home, a bakery and a school, carried out by Turkey and allied Syrian armed groups,’ Amnesty said.
KumiNaidoo, the organisation’s secretary general, said Turkish forces and their allies had ‘displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives’.
The report included testimony of a Kurdish Red Crescent worker who said he removed bodies from the wreckage of a Turkish air strike near a school in Salhiye on October 12.
‘I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls because their corpses were black. They looked like charcoal,’ the rescue worker was quoted as saying.
It also said Kurdish female politician HevrinKhalaf and her bodyguard were summarily executed by members of the Syrian National Army, a Turkish-funded and -trained group.
At least two more executions of Kurdish fighters were confirmed, while Turkey’s Syrian allies had kidnapped two employees of a local medical organisation, Amnesty said.
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