Turkey 'may go into Syria region despite Russia deal'
Iran Press TV
Sun May 5, 2019 05:49PM
Turkey has hinted that it may send in military forces to the Syrian border region of Tel Rifaat despite an agreement with Russia to stay clear of the area.
Turkey's Vice President Fuat Oktay made the comments in an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7 on Sunday, a day after cross-border fire from the region claimed the life of a Turkish trooper.
"The agreement was for us to stop there (Tel Rifaat), but if these attacks continue, this may take a different shape. We are discussing this with Russia," Oktay said, without providing further details.
Ankara, the main backer of anti-government militants in Syria, reached agreements with Russia – an ally of Damascus – last year to conduct joint patrols along Syria's northern regions, where Turkey says the Syrian offshoot of a separatist group is active.
Back in March, Turkey's Defense Ministry said Turkish and Russian forces had conducted their first "independent and coordinated" patrols in Tel Rifaat.
On Saturday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement that four soldiers had been killed and two others sustained injuries in two separate attacks conducted by members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militant group from Tel Rifaat and northern Iraq.
Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist group, which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
The Defense Ministry statement further said that the Turkish army had retaliated in both cases and killed 28 YPG militants.
Tel Rifaat is controlled by suspected YPG militants and is located some 20 kilometers east of Afrin, a city under the control of Turkey and Turkish-backed militants.
Separately on Sunday, Turkey's Daily Sabah newspaper, citing unnamed security forces, reported that Turkish airstrikes had killed five PKK terrorists in the northern parts of Iraq earlier in the day as part of an operation launched to retaliate against the cross-border attacks on Saturday.
It added that the airstrikes targeted the area across the border from Turkey's southeastern province of Hakkari, stressing that the army's operation in the region continued.
Ankara has launched two operations in northern Syria. The first began in August 2016 to stop the advance of Kurdish militia forces. Then, in January 2018, Turkish military forces launched another cross-border military operation with the declared aim of eliminating YPG militants from northern Syria, particularly in the Afrin region.
Neither of the offensives was authorized by the Syrian government.
On Friday, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said that Damascus "will not allow Turkey to control even one centimeter of the Syrian territory."
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