According to Syrian state media, Syrian and Turkish forces clashed near the border town of Ras al Ain on Wednesday. Ankara, meanwhile, reinforced its claim to launch another cross-border offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia.
Syrian media said Turkish troops had seized villages on the edge of Ras al Ain. Turkish-backed rebels said there had been intermittent clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops in recent days south of the town, which Turkey seized from Syrian Kurdish-led forces earlier this month.
Syrian troops headed north to take up positions near the border, a region Damascus has not controlled since early on in the country’s eight-and-a-half-year-old war.
In Ankara, President Tayyip Erdogan told lawmakers that Turkey has information the YPG has not completed its pull-out. This despite assurances from Russia on Tuesday that they had left ahead of the deal’s deadline.
Even though the information in our hands suggests this has not succeeded in a full sense, we will give our response to them after our field assessments. If we see that the members of the terrorist organization have not been moved out of the 30 km, or if attacks continue, no matter from where, we reserve our right to carry out our own operation.
Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization because of its links to Kurdish militants in southeast Turkey. Erdogan aims to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria cleared of the group.
The YPG is the main component in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that fought for years alongside U.S. forces to shatter the “caliphate” the Islamic State militants declared in northeast Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Turkish-backed forces crossed into northeast Syria on Oct. 9 to attack the YPG. It happened after President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces a few days earlier. Turkey’s incursion drew international condemnation of Ankara.
Democrats and fellow Republicans alike lambasted Trump’s decision for abandoning Kurdish fighters who helped rout Islamic State. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted decisively to sanction Turkey, a NATO ally.
Joint Russian-Turkish patrols had been set to begin on Tuesday at a depth of 10 km inside Syria; but Erdogan said they would begin on Friday and at a depth of just 7 km after a Russian delegation held three days of talks in Ankara seeking agreement on cooperation.
Nicholas Danforth, senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said:
Getting the United States out of Syria was the one big interest Turkey, Russia and Iran had in common. But now Russia’s longstanding support for restoring the Syrian regime’s sovereignty will come into direct conflict with Turkey’s desire to project its interests and territory in northern Syria.
On Tuesday, the Turkey-backed Syrian rebels captured an undisclosed number of Syrian army soldiers near Tel Hawa. In the countryside around Ras al Ain. A spokesman for the rebels said that the YPG had not fully withdrawn from the border area. H expected new round of clashes.
Some 300,000 people have been displaced and 120 civilians killed since Turkey’s incursion, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor.
Reuters contributed to this article.