Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that joint Turkish-Russian patrols in northeast Syria will begin on Friday, in line with a deal between Ankara and Moscow.
Wednesday’s announcement came after a Russian military delegation visited Turkey in order to discuss the planned patrols and an announcement by Kremlin that the Kurdish fighters seen as “terrorists” by Ankara had left the region.
“We will start the joint work on the ground on Friday, namely we are starting the joint patrols,” Erdogan told parliament in a televised speech.
On October 9, Turkey launched an offensive aimed at carving out a “safe zone” cleared of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers “terrorists”, as well as at repatriating some of the 3.6 million refugees currently residing on its soil.
Under an accord reached last week in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, the SDF was given a 150-hour deadline to withdraw its fighters and weapons from a zone running 30km (18 miles) from the Turkey-Syria border.
Under the Sochi deal, Turkish and Russian joint patrols were meant to begin 10km (six miles) to the east and west of the zone after the deadline expired on Tuesday.
Erdogan said on Wednesday Russian authorities had informed Ankara that some 34,000 members of the “terror group” had withdrawn – together with 3,260 pieces of heavy weaponry.
“The data we have points to the fact that this was not fully achieved,” Erdogan said, referring to the Russian assurances.
“We will give the necessary response after we carry out work in the field,” he added.
Erdogan again stressed that Turkey “reserves the right to carry out its own operation” if it identifies any Kurdish fighters or if its forces and allied Syrian rebels come under attack.
Meanwhile, Syrian state media on Wednesday reported that government troops clashed with Turkish-backed forces near the border town of Ras al-Ain.
The state media gave no details, but the Turkish-backed rebels said similar, intermittent clashes had occurred in recent days with Syrian troops south of the town, which is now under the control of Turkey.
There was no official reaction from the Turkish side.
Negotiations carried out between 28-30 October 2019 with the Russian Military Delegation,which came to Ankara to plan the military activities to be carried out within the framework of the agreement reached in Sochi on October 22, 2019, have been completedhttps://t.co/G1aSmycmef pic.twitter.com/FDeN0gBpXw
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) October 30, 2019
According to Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Sanliurfa near the Turkish-Syrian border, the Turkish-backed forces said that there have been limited clashes around towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Tamr to push the government forces from there.
“What is happening at this particular moment is quite extraordinary – all the parties are trying to consolidate their gains in those areas,” Ahelbarra said.
He added that Russia, a party to the Sochi agreement, might step in to contain a potential full-blown confrontation against the backdrop of the recent sporadic clashes.