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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

No Letup in Smoke, Gunfire and a War of Words along Syrian-Turkish Border

By Jeff Seldin October 18, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday hailed the U.S.-brokered pause in hostilities between Turkey and the Kurds in northeast Syria, despite reports of continued fighting.

Trump told reporters at the White House that despite some clashes that Turkish forces put down early in the day, "we're doing very, very well with Turkey. … They're back to the full pause."

He further described the Kurds as "very happy about the way things are going."

But for much of Friday, the drumbeat of shelling and small-arms fire echoed across swaths of northeastern Syria as witnesses reported seeing smoke rising over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, just across the border from Turkey.

Here are the latest developments;

– The Pentagon said Friday that no U.S. troops would take part in enforcing the cease-fire. A senior defense official said the U.S. would maintain intelligence and surveillance over northeastern Syria to monitor Islamic State prisoners.

– Trump said captured Islamic State fighters remained "totally under guard," with Turkey guarding some prisoners separately. And he said, "We've taken control of the oil in the Middle East ... the oil that everybody was worried about."

– Before talking to reporters, Trump said via Twitter that he had spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, who told him that while there was minor sniper fire and shelling, "he very much wants the cease-fire, or pause, to work." Trump also tweeted that there was "good will on both sides."

– U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was optimistic the cease-fire would hold despite some breaches. While acknowledging "there was some activity today," the top U.S. diplomat said after meeting the NATO secretary-general in Brussels, "We're hopeful in the hours ahead that both the Turks, who were part of the agreement alongside of us, as well as the YPG [Kurdish People's Protection Units] fighters in the region will take seriously the commitments that they made."

– NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was glad the U.S. and Turkey, both NATO allies, had agreed on a way forward. "We all know and understand that the situation in northeast Syria is fragile, difficult, but I believe that this [cease-fire] statement can help to de-escalate the situation and therefore help to improve the situation on the ground," he said.

– The Syrian Democratic Council accused Turkey of violating the pause agreement, saying Turkish forces had targeted Bab al-Khair village Friday, killing five Syrian Democratic Forces members and "a number of civilians."

– Earlier Friday, while speaking with journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan rejected reports of continued fighting in Syria. He added that he had informed Trump of the impending offensive during a phone call the day before it began, and further warned that Turkey would resume its offensive if the agreement on a pause was not fully implemented within the five-day window.

– Erdogan also said Turkey planned on setting up 12 observation posts in the safe zone and that he would discuss further steps Tuesday when he is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

– Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met in Damascus on Friday with Russia's special envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev.

– Several Syrian Kurdish officials charged that Turkey had already violated the pause agreement. "Turkish army forces and their affiliated jihadist groups indiscriminately continue airstrikes and artillery attacks on Serêkanîyê [Ras al-Ayn]," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told VOA's Kurdish service Friday.

– U.S. officials said that despite reports of continued fighting, they were optimistic the deal with Turkey would yield results. White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told Fox News early Friday that the U.S. delegation was "successful in a cease-fire, but that takes time."

– Kurdish officials said a civilian convoy headed to Ras al-Ayn had been unable to reach the town and was forced to abandon its vehicles because of shelling in the area.

– SDF officials reported ongoing fighting in Ain Issa and said they'd shot down a Turkish military helicopter.

– A commander with the Kurdish Women's Protection Units (YPJ) told the Rojava Information Center that her forces had picked up radio chatter of Turkish-backed militias reassuring one another they would not stop fighting even if there was a cease-fire.

– Erdogan announced his forces had recaptured 200 of the approximately 750 captured Islamic State fighters who had been set free by the SDF. SDF officials have previously denied allowing any IS fighters to escape from their prison facilities, though they admit seven had escaped.

– The U.N. humanitarian mission to Syria estimated that at least 160,000 people had been displaced since the start of the Turkish offensive on Oct. 9.

VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching and VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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