Russia and Turkey have agreed to joint military patrols along the Turkish-Syrian border as they demanded Syrian Kurdish fighters withdraw from the area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made the agreement during a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi moments before a five-day ceasefire ended.
US President Donald Trump announced two weeks previously that US troops would withdraw from northeastern Syria, leaving its Kurdish allies to fend for themselves as Turkey launched an offensive.
Russia, the Syrian government’s strongest ally and previous enemy of the Kurds, stepped in to negotiate with Turkey as more than 166,000 Kurds fled the region, many into Iraq.
Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan agreed Russian military police and Syrian border guards will enter the Syrian side of the border with Turkey from midday on Wednesday.
They will then remove the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey deems a terrorist organisation, so they are 19 miles (30km) from the Turkey-Syria border.
The two military units will begin patrols at 6pm next Tuesday along the line separating them from the YPG, in a “safe zone” Ankara has long sought.
Turkey will maintain control of the areas between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras Al Ain, which it has taken since beginning its military offensive on 9 October.
Under the agreement, they want the YPG to agree to withdraw from the towns of Manbij and Tal Rifaat, which are outside the current areas of conflict.
They said both Turkey and Russia will help refugees return “in a safe and voluntary manner”, but with no Kurdish forces in the area to protect them it remains unlikely refugees will want to return.
Shortly after, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force (SDF) informed the US it had withdrawn all YPG forces “out of the Turkish-controlled safe zone”, as agreed under the US-brokered ceasefire.
Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said after the meeting that about 500 people, including Islamic State (IS) fighters, had escaped from prison in northern Syria after their guards left their posts.
They were trying to recapture the prisoners, he added.
As the two leaders were in the meeting, Syrian President Bashar Assad called Turkey’s president “a thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory”.
He added that he was ready to support any “popular resistance” against Turkey’s invasion and has offered clemency to those who had joined the SDF, which his government considers secessionists.
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