Turkey, Russia agree to withdrawal of YPG, joint patrols in Syria

(Releads with Russia,Turkey agreement, added quotes)

Following a seven-hour meeting on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have reached an agreement that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria will withdraw to beyond 30 km (19 miles) from the Turkish border and also leave the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij.

According to the agreement signed between Ankara and Moscow on Tuesday, the Turkish offensive will be limited to a distance of within 30 kilometres from the Turkish-Syrian border, Russian Sputnik website reported.

Turkish and Russian troops will conduct joint patrols in northern Syria within 10 km of the border, Reuters quoted Erdoğan as saying, adding that Ankara would also work with Moscow for the safe return of Syrian refugees now in Turkey.

According to Tuesday’s deal, Russia will send military police, while Syria will send border guards in order to ensure the removal of YPG forces and their weapons up to a "depth of 30 kilometres away from the border" in the next150 hours.

The 10-point agreement between Ankara and Moscow, read out by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, also includes the commitment to the return of refugees to the envisaged safe zone and fight against terrorism.

The meeting between Erdoğan and Putin took place hours before the end of a 120-hour ceasefire the Turkish leader agreed with the United States to halt his cross-border offensive against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.

The meeting helps cement Putin’s position as the major power-broker in Syria after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered his forces to withdraw from northern Syria, where they had backed the Syrian Kurds in their fight to territorially defeat Islamic State (ISIS). Turkish troops, backed by Syrian Islamist militias, launched their operation days later on Oct. 9.

Erdoğan said ahead of his meeting with Putin in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi that it would “provide an opportunity to address peace much more strongly”.

Before leaving Turkey, Erdoğan said he and Putin were on the same page over Syria and would discuss the removal of Kurdish-led armed groups from areas on the Syrian-Turkish border now controlled by the Syrian government.

“I believe the stage our relations have reached in recent years will help us solve all the problems facing our region today,” Putin said in Sochi. “We are aware of the very different dynamics at play in the regional situation. I believe this meeting and our consultations will be very productive.”

Reuters later on Tuesday quoted Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria was violating Syria’s territorial integrity, citing the Interfax news agency.

Erdoğan said the Turkish operation had cleared the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from a 2,200 square km area of northeast Syria and brought 160 settlements under Turkish control. The president wants to create what he calls a 32 km-deep Turkish-controlled safe zone stretching from the River Euphrates to the border with Iraq, and to resettle Syrian refugees in the area.

But Assad’s forces rushed to areas near the Turkish border evacuated by U.S. troops, creating an obstacle to Turkey’s plans. The SDF has reached a deal with the Syrian government to protect areas in northeast Syria from Turkey and its Syrian Islamist rebel allies.

Assad, though, is determined to reclaim control of Syria in its entirety, and accused Erdoğan of stealing the country's territory.

The Syrian president called Erdoğan a “thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory”, while visiting Syrian government troops who have been battling rebels, including Turkish-backed groups, in Idlib province.

Erdoğan said 700 SDF members had withdrawn from the area laid out in last week’s deal with Washington, adding that he expected 1,200 more to withdraw by the deadline on Tuesday evening.

If the full withdrawal promised in the agreement does not take place, “we will pick up our operation where we left off, this time with far greater determination,” the president said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday that Tehran rejected Turkish plans to build 12 observation posts in the planned zone.

Erdoğan called Iran’s statement treason against Turkey since the two countries and Russia are partners of Astana process.

© Ahval English