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Shelling Still Heard At Syrian-Turkish Border After Cease-Fire Went Into Effect


A five-day cease-fire along Turkey's border with Syria is now in effect. But there are reports that it has broken down in a strategic town near the border. And it's not at all clear that Kurds in Syria have signed on to the U.S.-brokered agreement. For more on that, NPR's Jane Arraf joins us now from the Kurdish Iraqi city of Dohuk, across the Syrian border.

Hi, Jane.


CHANG: So what signs are you seeing that this temporary cease-fire is not holding up in some areas?

ARRAF: Well, it centers around the border, around the Turkish border near a strategic town, as you mentioned. It's called Ras al-Ayn, and it's part of that 20-mile-wide zone in Syria that Turkey is trying to carve out. We spoke with Sozda Rakko from the Kurdish Red Crescent. That's the equivalent of the Red Cross in northeast Syria. She told us about information she's receiving on the ground about a hospital being bombed in one of those border cities.

SOZDA RAKKO: The city's still being bombed despite an agreement made yesterday. A team of doctors go this morning to get civilians out of the city, but Turkish army didn't let them. This makes us very concerned about the kids and the wounded civilians there.

ARRAF: So it's clear there's been quite a heavy toll on civilians in this conflict so far, and it hasn't even lasted very long - possibly up to 200 civilians who have been killed, medical facilities targeted and 200,000 people displaced.

CHANG: And while all of that is going on, President Trump has been calling this cease-fire a huge success. A lot of questions still remain, though, right? Can you talk about what is still unresolved, despite the fact that this deal was reached yesterday?

ARRAF: Absolutely. There is so much unresolved. It's a really vague agreement that the Kurds say they haven't signed on to, even though they agreed to a cease-fire. Turkish forces expect them to withdraw from this border area. They say they didn't agree to that. And then those wider concerns - what happens with ISIS? They've been fighting ISIS for years, and ISIS is threatening to regroup in a lot of these areas. It seems to empower both Russia and Iran, who are strong Syrian allies. Turkey calls this a buffer zone, but many see it as an occupation, and one European leader calls it madness.

CHANG: And at the same time, there have been huge fears of a huge influx of refugees trying to cross into Iraq. Are you seeing that happening right now?

ARRAF: More and more. Today there were more than 700 refugees who crossed into a camp in the Kurdish region here in Iraq. And in the past week, in total more than 2,000 crossed the border fleeing the fighting.


ARRAF: And that's just in six days, yeah. We spoke with Tom Peyre-Costa from the Norwegian Refugee Council, and he says even the cease-fire isn't expected to stop people from leaving areas under Turkish control.

TOM PEYRE-COSTA: We can expect more displacement inside Syria or towards Iraq due to the fact that these areas will be occupied by a hostile army towards Kurdish people. So we don't expect these Kurds in these areas to stay there.

ARRAF: It's not so easy to cross over, though. While Iraqi Kurds are welcoming almost everyone on the Kurdish-Syrian side, fighters are thought to be trying to prevent people from leaving. And many of those arriving in the last couple of days paid smugglers to bring them across. Some of the refugees we've spoken to will be trying to get to Europe, they say, which is perhaps another unintended consequence of this Turkish incursion and U.S. withdrawal.

CHANG: So this cease-fire - or pause, is a better way to put it - it's only supposed to last five days. What happens when time is up?

ARRAF: Well, that is the big question. Now, because the Kurds have not agreed, they say, to withdraw from that buffer zone, which is the whole point of this, then after that cease-fire is over, it's very likely that there actually will be fighting again.

CHANG: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Dohuk.

Thank you very much.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAZERBEAK'S "WINGING IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.