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Iran Press TV

Russia says Kurdish militants have fully withdrawn from Syria safe zone

Iran Press TV

Tue Oct 29, 2019 04:42PM

Russia says the Kurdish militants of the People's Protection Units (YPG) have completely withdrawn from a 'safe zone' along Syria's border with Turkey as planned under a deal between Moscow and Ankara.

"The withdrawal of armed units from territory where a security corridor should be created has been completed ahead of time," Russian news agencies quoted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying on Tuesday.

On October 9, Turkish military and its allied militants from the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), who enjoy Ankara's patronage, commenced a cross-border offensive into northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to clear Kurdish YPG militants from border areas.

Ankara regards the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

The YPG, which itself is the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), constitutes the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of predominantly Kurdish militants.

The military operation came after the US abruptly withdrew its forces from the region, clearing the path for Turkey to go ahead with a planned military action against Washington's longtime Kurdish allies.

The Syrian government says the offensive was an act of aggression.

Feeling backstabbed by the US, the Kurdish militants – which were until recently operating against the Syrian government – reached out to Damascus in a dramatic policy shift, agreeing to allow national army forces back into several northern regions under their control to help defend the country's borders against Turkey's incursion.

The Turkish government agreed on October 17 to pause the offensive for 120 hours while the US facilitates the withdrawal of the YPG militants from the safe zone, which will be 32 kilometers deep, and 444 kilometers long.

The Washington-brokered ceasefire expired on Tuesday, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, reached an agreement in Sochi, stating that Kurdish YPG militants must completely withdraw from the Turkish-ruled safe zone in northeast Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow will run joint patrols around the area.

The deadline ended at 6:00 p.m. local time (1500 GMT) on Tuesday.

Separately on Tuesday, Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency's communications director, said Turkish-Russian joint patrols would verify whether the YPG had pulled out its militants from the so-called safe zone.

"The time is up. We will establish, through joint patrols, whether or not the terrorists have actually withdrawn," he tweeted.

On Sunday, the SDF called on Russia in a statement to help ensure "a constructive dialog" between the Kurds and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The statement came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to "clear" Kurdish "terrorists" from the so-called safe zone single-handedly if they fail to withdraw by the end of the Tuesday deadline.

The Turkish military has previously launched two cross-border incursions in northern Syria, namely the Euphrates Shield in August 2016 and the Olive Branch in January 2018, with the declared aim of eradicating Kurdish militants and Daesh Takfiri terrorists near Turkey's borders.

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