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According to HRW, the Syrian-Russian military offensive on Idlib "used unlawful tactics to kill and injure hundreds of civilians." (file photo)

Turkish-led bombardment killed 14 civilians in northeastern Syria on October 18, a war monitor said, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect overnight.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the 14 were killed in Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by allied Syrian fighters on and around the village of Bab Al-Kheir, east of the border town of Ras Al-Ayn.

Eight fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were also killed, the Britain-based group said.

SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali accused Turkey of violating the terms of the agreement reached during an October 17 visit to Ankara by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

“Air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements, and the hospital" in Ras Al-Ayn, he said.

Under the deal, all fighting was to halt for five days and the United States was to help facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish-led troops from a "safe zone" sought by Turkey along the border.

In Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the agreement was holding and there had been no issues so far.

He warned that Ankara would restart its offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria on October 22 if they did not withdraw.

Turkish armed forces would remain in the region "because the security there requires this," Erdogan also said.

U.S. President Donald Trump later said Erdogan had told him "there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated."

"He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work. Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen," Trump tweeted.

Turkey launched its ground and air offensive in northeastern Syria last week, saying it wanted to clear the area of a Kurdish militia that Ankara views as a terrorist group, and establish a buffer zone to resettle Syrian refugees.

The move came after Trump's abrupt decision announced last week to withdraw forces from the area where they had been supporting the SDF in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa
Abror Azimov, a Kyrgyz citizen, has been charged with organizing an attack that killed 15 people and injured 67 others.(file photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- A suspect on trial over a deadly 2017 subway blast in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has recanted his confession claiming it was made under torture and threats of blackmail.

Abror Azimov, a Kyrgyz citizen who is charged with organizing the attack that killed 15 people and injured 67 others, said at the high-profile trial on October 17 that Federal Security Service (FSB) officers beat him and threatened to plant a fire extinguisher filled with explosives in his father's house to make him a suspect as well.

"I had to incriminate myself because I was blackmailed," Azimov told the court.

The 11 defendants in the case -- all natives of Central Asian former Soviet republics -- have pleaded not guilty, with some, including Azimov's brother Akram, claiming they were tortured while in custody both before and after they went on trial in early April.

Investigators say that on April 3, 2017, 22-year-old suicide bomber Akbarjon Jalilov, an ethnic-Uzbek Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan, detonated a bomb in a subway carriage while it was between two stations.

A second explosive was left at a station platform, but it was found and safely defused.

Abror Azimov was later pronounced to be the mastermind behind the attack.

He and the 10 other defendants are charged with being members of a terrorist group, supporting terrorist activity, and the illegal production and sale of explosive devices.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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