Moscow, Damascus deploy forces to Syria-Turkey border

Published October 26, 2019
QAMISHLI: Syrian government forces drive along a road in the countryside near this city in north-eastern Syria on Friday. —AFP
QAMISHLI: Syrian government forces drive along a road in the countryside near this city in north-eastern Syria on Friday. —AFP

QAMISHLI: Damascus and Moscow deployed extra forces on Friday to Syria’s border with Turkey, even as Washington partially reversed a drawback to boost its own military presence near key Syrian oil fields.

The United States earlier this month announced a pullout from Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, allowing Damascus, Ankara and Moscow to carve up the Kurds’ now-defunct autonomous region.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies on Oct 9 launched a cross-border attack against Kurdish-held areas, grabbing a 120-kilometre-long swathe of Syrian land along the frontier.

The deadly incursion killed hundreds and caused 300,000 people to flee their homes in the latest humanitarian disaster in Syria’s brutal eight-year war.

This week, Turkey and Russia struck a deal in Sochi for more Kurdish forces to withdraw from the frontier on both sides of that Turkish-held area under the supervision of Russian and Syrian forces.

Before dawn Friday, a stringer saw a convoy of hundreds of regime troops arriving in the border town of Kobane.

Dozens of soldiers sat atop a truck touting guns and waving Syria’s two-star flag as they made their way into town to a cacophony of honking horns, he said. “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one,” they shouted.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor relying on sources inside Syria, said 180 vehicles had arrived in Kobane.

Moscow, for its part, said 300 Russian military police had arrived in Syria to help ensure Kurdish forces withdraw to a line 30 kilometres from the border in line with Tuesday’s agreement.

Ankara eventually wants to set up a so-called “safe zone” on Syrian soil along the entire length of its 440-kilometre border, including to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has made clear it objected to some provisions of the Sochi agreement and it has so far maintained several border positions.

Human rights groups on Friday accused Turkey of already “forcibly” having deported refugees to war-torn Syria in the months leading to its attack.

Fighting between the two sides raged southeast of the Turkey-held zone on Friday despite the truce, the Observatory said.

Near the town of Ain Issa, five members of a family were wounded when a Turkish drone stuck their car, the war monitor said.

Syria’s Kurds have largely stayed out of their country’s civil war, instead building their own institutions and working towards autonomy.

But SDF forces have been a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, although Turkey views them as “terrorists”.

SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Abdi has expressed reservations about the Turkish-Russian deal, and says he refuses to leave his people “alone without protection”.

On Wednesday, he said he would be open to a German proposal for international forces to patrol the border area.

The plan was raised at a Nato meeting of defence ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2019

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