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Turkey starts patrols with Russia in northern Syria

Turkey starts patrols with Russia in northern Syria
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Kiziltepe (Turkey): Turkish troops on Friday began joint patrols with Russian forces in northern Syria as part of a deal to ensure the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the border.

The patrols began at around midday (local time) in a village in the Al-Darbasiyah region, an AFP journalist reported from the Turkish side of the border where government officials had invited reporters to witness the event.

The soldiers headed to the east of Al-Darbasiyah in a convoy of Turkish and Russian military vehicles to patrol a strip of territory several dozen kilometres long, according to Turkish military sources.

The Russian army said in a statement that the convoy consisted of nine vehicles, protected by an armoured personnel carrier, and that it would cover more than 110 kilometres (68 miles).

The Turkish defence ministry confirmed in a tweet that the patrols "with ground and air units are underway".

The ministry said in a separate tweet that a meeting with a Russian military delegation was planned in Ankara to discuss "tactical and technical

issues".

Kurdish forces were given a 150-hour deadline to withdraw from a band of territory along the border, under an agreement hammered out in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi last week after Turkey's cross-border offensive into Syria.

The deadline expired on Tuesday evening.

As a result of the Sochi deal and another pact with the US reached a few days earlier, Turkey halted the offensive it had launched against Kurdish forces on October 9.

On Tuesday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Russia had informed Turkey that Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters had withdrawn as planned.

However, Erdogan's office said that Turkey wanted to verify the withdrawal through the joint patrols.

Turkey intends to set up a "safe zone" 30 miles deep into Syrian territory in to move the YPG militia away from the Turkish border.

The YPG was a key ally in Western-backed efforts to defeat the Islamic State group but Turkey considers it a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

Erdogan has also said some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees that Turkey is hosting could be sent to the zone.

Before the offensive launched last month, Turkey already controlled swathes of Syrian territory in the north of the country thanks to two previous operations to the west of the Euphrates river.

Thanks to the operation launched in October, Turkey has now been able to establish a 120km-long zone under its control to the east of the river, between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

However, Turkey's plan to extend the zone over some 450km was prevented by the presence of Syrian government forces, who were invited into other border areas by

the YPG.

Under the terms of the Sochi deal, Russia — a key ally of the Syrian government — committed to coordinate with the Syrian army in order to ensure the departure of the YPG from these areas, as well as to set up the patrols with Turkey.

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