Turkey captures 18 suspected Syrian government forces – Defence Ministry

(Corrections to reflect doubts on whether captives are Syrian government soldiers.)

Turkey’s Defence Ministry said on Tuesday that Turkish forces in northeast Syria had captured 18 people suspected of being Syrian government soldiers, adding that Russian authorities had been contacted about the issue.

Turkey and Russia last week agreed on a deal that ended Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Turkey sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The deal said Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces would facilitate the withdrawal of the SDF to areas 30 km south of a large section of the Syrian-Turkish border.

The Turkish military and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels opposing the Assad government have retained control of a 32-km deep region between the northeast Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn that was seized during Turkey’s military offensive. 

“18 people who were claimed to be the Regime elements were captured alive in the southeast of Rasulayn (Ras al Ayn) during the search/detection/reconnaissance/security activities,” the Turkish ministry said on Twitter, referring to troops loyal to Assad’s government. “The issue is being examined and coordinated with the authorities of the Russian Federation.”

Russia informed Turkish authorities on Tuesday that the withdrawal of the SDF had been completed at the end of a 150-hour period agreed by Ankara and Moscow. 

“Turkish-Russian joint patrols will be initiated in the west and east of the borders of current Operation Peace Spring at a depth of 10 kilometres, except for the city of Qamishli,” Turkish Defence Ministry said on Wednesday in a statement on the joint efforts with Russia.

In the remaining part of the 30 km deep area to the west of Tel Abyad and east of Ras al Ayn, Russia assumed the responsibility of ensuring security in cooperation with the Assad forces. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Russia had informed Turkey of the withdrawal of 34,000 Kurdish fighters along with 3,260 heavy weapons from the northwestern Syrian towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbij and from the east of Euphrates River. 

Erdoğan said that the information Turkey had obtained showed that the withdrawal had not been fully completed, adding that Turkey would respond to Russia after conducting its own inspections.

“We reserve the right to conduct our own operation if we see that that the members of the terrorist organisation have not been removed 30 kilometres south from the region or if attacks against Turkey continues independent of the source,” he said.