SDF say they have pulled out of Syria border town

20/10/2019 - 22:04 Published in News/General

Kurdish fighters belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have withdrawn from the besieged Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain in the first pullback under a ceasefire deal with Turkey brokered by the United States.

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said in a statement that the Kurdish-led group had no fighters left in Ras al-Ain following Sunday's evacuation.

But Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who took control of most of Ras al-Ain last week amid a Turkish offensive into northeast Syria launched on October 9 disputed that claim, saying the Kurdish forces were still entrenched in nearly thirty percent of the area, the Reuters news agency reported.

Turkey's defence ministry had earlier said a convoy of approximately 86 vehicles carrying the US-backed SDF fighters departed the border town in the direction of Tal Tamr, another town located about 40 kilometres (24 miles) south.

An SDF withdrawal from Ras al-Ain would be a boost to the ceasefire, which came into effect on Thursday evening, but has been shaky ever since.

The truce put Turkey's military operation on "pause" until later this week, but sporadic clashes have erupted daily and there have also been occasional shelling, particularly around Ras al-Ain, where the SDF have been encircled by Turkish-led forces.

Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford, reporting from the Turkish city of Sanliurfa, said fighting for control of the town had been "intense" prior to the ceasefire, adding that even after the truce there had been "reported ongoing sporadic clashes" in the area.

"So this [SDF withdrawal] must be a great relief for what we believe are at least a couple of hundred civilians that have been trapped in Ras al-Ain," Stratford said.