Kurds begin evacuating Syria’s border town of Ras al Ayn

Kurdish civilians and fighters on Sunday began evacuating from Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al Ayn, marking the first pullback under the U.S.-brokered cease-fire deal pausing Turkey’s offensive, AP reported. 

Kurdish fighters and civilians have begun leaving the town in convoys, a local official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AP, saying he was unsure if the process would be completed on Sunday.

The evacuation arrives as daily reports of clashes and occasional shelling, particularly around Ras al Ayn, where Kurdish fighters have been encircled by Turkish-led forces, have led to concerns about the five-day ceasefire. 

Both sides have accused each other of repeatedly violating the three-day old agreement.

Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria targeting the formerly U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and affiliates, which began on Oct. 9 and mainly focused on two border towns Ras al Ayn and Tel Abyad, was halted on Thursday following a U.S.-brokered temporary ceasefire deal. Accordingly, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as a terror group, will withdraw in 120 hours from territories in northern Syria where Turkey wants to establish a 32-kilometre safe zone. But the length of the planned safe zone remained uncertain.

While the cease-fire deal only calls for fighters to leave the border area, Kurdish civilians are also fleeing for fear atrocities by the Turkish-backed Syrian forces in the absence of Kurdish forces, AP said.

The forces have been accused of killings of Kurdish civilians and captured fighters during Turkey’s offensive and in other Syrian territory seized in Turkish operations since 2017.

After the Ras al-Ayn evacuation, the forces will withdraw from a zone about 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide and 30-kilometers (20 miles) deep between Ras al Ayn and the town of Tel Abyad further west, AP quoted Redur Khalil, a senior official in the Kurdish-led SDF as saying.

The pullback is supposed to be completed by Tuesday evening, when the cease-fire runs out.

Turkey has vowed to continue with the operation if the United States does not keep its promises after Turkey stops its military operation in northern Syria for five days.