Turkey hands over captured Syrian soldiers - Defence Ministry

Turkey handed over 18 people believed to be members of the Syrian army who were captured earlier this week, the Turkish Defence Ministry announced on Twitter late on Thursday.

The 18 soldiers were captured on Tuesday southeast of Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al Ayn, which is under the control of the Turkish military and Turkey-backed rebels. 

The ministry said in its statement that the soldiers had been handed over “as a result of the coordination with the authorities of the Russian Federation” but did not mention whether the soldiers were handed over to Russia or to the Damascus government.

Turkey currently controls a 32 km deep area between the Syrian border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn where Ankara plans to establish a safe zone.

Ankara and Moscow last week agreed on a deal to remove the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the proposed safe zone and 30 km away from other parts of the Turkish border. Turkey and Russia are expected to start joint patrols in northern Syria on Friday along a 444 km stretch of the border. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that though Russia had informed Turkey that the SDF had withdrawn from northern Syria within a 150-hour deadline, Turkey had information that the withdrawal was not complete.

Turkey sees the SDF and its affiliate Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group seeking autonomy for the Kurds in Turkey. The Syrian Defence Ministry on Wednesday called on Kurdish fighters to join President Bashar Assad’s government forces to counter what it called Turkish aggression threatening Syrian territories.