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Turkish soldiers stand guard in the town of Tal Abyad, Syria October 23, 2019. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Car bomb explodes in Syrian town held by Turkey-backed fighters

BEIRUT (AP) — A car boobytrapped with explosives detonated Thursday, wounding four people, in a northeastern Syrian town taken by Turkish-backed forces from Kurdish fighters during Turkey’s invasion, Syrian state media and a war monitoring group said.

The blast went off in the town of Tal Abyad outside the headquarters of a militia of Syrian fighters allied to Turkey, according to the SANA news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the injuries.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing. Similar bombings have taken place in the past in another enclave held for several years by Turkey and its Syrian allies on the northwest part of the border. The Turkish-backed fighters are drawn from the ranks of Syrian rebels — many of them Islamic extremists — and are hated by both the Syrian government and Kurdish fighters.

Turkey invaded northeastern Syria on Oct. 9, aiming to drive the Kurdish forces out of a “safe zone” along the border after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the area. It captured a large section and has now halted the attack after a U.S.-brokered cease-fire and an agreement with Russia.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said Thursday that Kurdish-led forces have begun a further pull-back from the border, Under the Russia deal, Kurdish fighters are to withdraw from a 30-kilometer (18-mile) deep zone along the border, to be replaced by Syrian government forces and joint Russian-Turkish patrols.

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Vershinin told reporters that the agreement is being successfully implemented. He gave an affirmative answer when asked if that includes the Kurdish pullback but gave no details.

Russian military police began patrols on some of the border areas on Wednesday. Later in the day, Russia’s defense minister spoke to Kurdish military chief Mazlum Abdi, pledging to guarantee security for civilians in the border zone. The Russian Defense Ministry said Abdi promised that Kurdish fighters will comply with the deal.

The Kurdish fighters have already completed a withdrawal from the central section of the border as required under the U.S.-brokered cease-fire. That territory, which includes the town of Tal Abyad, is to remain under the sole control of Turkey and its Syrian allies