Kurdish-led forces withdraw from Syrian city besieged by Turkey

The SDF confirmed on Sunday that its fighters had pulled out of Syria's border city of Serekaniye as part of the recent US-Turkish ceasefire deal.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) confirmed on Sunday that its fighters had pulled out of Syria's border city of Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain in Arabic) as part of the recent US-Turkish ceasefire deal.

“Today, we have evacuated the city of Ras Al-Ain from all SDF fighters. We don’t have any more fighters in the city,” spokesperson Kino Gabriel confirmed, adding that the move was part of the “agreement to pause military operations with Turkey with American mediation.”

As per the purported ceasefire agreement, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main military group within the SDF, has five days to withdraw from a “safe zone” along Turkey’s southern border. The countdown began on Friday. 

Read More: US announces northeast Syria ceasefire, but many questions remain 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday that the US and Turkey are “committed to a peaceful, Turkish-controlled safe zone.”

The SDF leadership said it accepted the US-brokered ceasefire on Thursday, but afterward said that Turkey was violating the ceasefire agreement by continuing to attack the town. 

Read More: Clashes ongoing between Syrian Kurdish forces, Turkey amid ceasefire

Luqman Ahmi, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led self-administration in northeastern Syria, told Kurdistan 24 that Turkish and Turkish-backed forces continued to attack Serekaniye as late as Saturday. 

Also on Saturday, Turkish-backed militias allowed a humanitarian convoy to pick up injured civilians there for the first time since the assault began. On Sunday, the Rojava Information Centre reported that another convoy had successfully returned from the city.

“(The convoys) bringing with it many wounded, dead, civilians and also fighters, our team on the ground in Til Temir confirms. This follows YPG spokesperson statement last night that SDF would today withdraw from [Serekaniye].”

The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed that a convoy of 55 vehicles entered Serekaniye on Saturday, claiming there was “absolutely no impediments to withdrawal in this regard.”

“The activities of exiting and evacuation from the region are firmly coordinated with the US counterparts,” it added.

Following Turkey’s attack on northern Syria on October 9, many world leaders, the US congress, and EU member states spoke out against the unilateral military operation. Kurds and supporters also held marches in many cities around the world, condemning the attacks.

According to the Syrian Democratic Council, 235 civilians have been killed and at least 300,000 displaced since the start of the offensive.

It remains to be seen if Turkey will keep its part of the bargain, now that SDF fighters have pulled out of Serekaniye, since it has also said it aims to settle close to 3.5 million Syrian refugees into the 32-kilometer deep and 440-kilometer wide buffer zone. Many refugees Turkey says it will repatriate to the area are from other parts of the country, a move that critics say amounts to ethnic cleansing.

A US official also told Kurdistan 24 on Friday that the “SDF agreed to a ceasefire [withdrawal] between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn only, nothing more.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Friday said that the safe zone Turkey wants covers a much more expansive area.

Editing by John J. Catherine