Syrian Kurds begin pullout from Turkish border

BEIRUT — The main U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia has begun withdrawing its fighters from two towns near Turkey’s border, part of a deal for a so-called safe zone in northeastern Syria involving the U.S. and Turkey, the Kurdish-led regional administration in northern Syria said Tuesday.

Turkey has been pressing for a safe zone, running east of the Euphrates River toward the Iraqi border, to push U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish militias away from its frontier. Turkey wants to control — in co-ordination with the U.S. — a 19-25 mile (30-40 kilometre) deep zone within civil war-ravaged Syria.

Turkey wants the region along its border to be clear of Syrian Kurdish forces and has threatened on numerous occasions to launch a new operation in Syria against Syrian Kurdish forces if such a zone is not established.

Turkey sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters, who make up the majority of the Syrian Democratic Forces and are allied with the U.S., as terrorists aligned with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey. American troops are stationed in northeast Syria, along with the Kurdish forces, and have fought the Islamic State group together.

The differing positions on the Kurdish fighters have become a major source of tension between NATO allies Turkey and the U.S.

The administration said “the first step” in these understandings began three days ago in the town of Ras al-Ayn, from where members of the militia known as YPG withdrew with their heavy weapons. The statement that was read by Zeidan al-Assi, head of defence office at the administration, added that similar steps were taken Monday in the border town of Tal Abyad.

It said the Kurdish militia positions were taken over by local forces, without elaborating.

On Monday, Turkey’s defence minister, Hulusi Akar, said Turkish and U.S. troops will soon begin joint patrols as part of a deal for a so-called safe zone. He said a joint helicopter flight has already taken place.

In northwest Syria, Syrian insurgents launched counterattacks Tuesday in and near areas recently taken by government forces in the country’s last remaining rebel region, after a series of setbacks they suffered in recent weeks, opposition activists said.

The fierce fighting killed more than 50 fighters on both sides, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It also underscored that President Bashar Assad’s forces will face a long, hard fight as they try to chip away at the last rebel-held territory.

The counterattacks began early in the morning and government forces called in Syria’s air force to repel them, the Observatory said. It said 29 Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen were killed, as well as 23 insurgents.

The insurgents captured two villages, Salloumieh and Abu Omar, and pushed into the nearby village of Sham al-Hawa, it said.

The Ibaa media outlet of the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militant group said its fighters were attacking Syrian positions east of Khan Sheikhoun, a major town that was held by rebels until they lost it last week.

Pro-government activists said on social media that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen are repelling the attack.

Syrian government forces captured wide areas from insurgents over the past weeks in an offensive that began on April 30. The areas taken include all rebel-held parts of Hama province as well as villages on the southern edge of Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria.

Tuesday’s clashes came after Syrian warplanes pounded the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan and nearby villages over the past two days — their likely next target for takeover.

Maaret al-Numan, like Khan Sheikhoun, sits on the highway linking Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest. Government forces are trying to eventually open that highway.

Taher al-Omar, a citizen journalist with the al-Qaida-linked militants, wrote on social media that they have carried out several suicide attacks so far.

The months of fighting have displaced more than half a million civilians toward northern parts of Idlib, already home to some 3 million people, according to U.N. humanitarian officials.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, a bomb exploded on a minibus, killing two people and wounding nine near the town of Azaz. The town is controlled by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters, according to pro-government media and the Azaz media centre, an activist collective.

Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Two Innisfail women were arrested and $23,000 of cash and drugs were seized

A two-week organized crime investigation has resulted in the seizure of drugs… Continue reading

Supreme Court dismisses Indigenous appeal of Trans Mountain pipeline approval

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear a new… Continue reading

Studies show no consistent evidence body cameras reduce police violence

A Calgary police officer loudly tells an Indigenous man to put his… Continue reading

Social media companies face revenue hit from boycotts

Verizon’s decision to join the growing boycott against Facebook and Twitter risks… Continue reading

Trade deficit narrowed in May as exports rose and imports fell again

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the country’s merchandise trade deficit narrowed in… Continue reading

‘This year is unlike any other’: Trudeau delivers Canada day address

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and the Prime Minister release video celebrating the national holiday

Michael Dawe: Canada Day festivities have been interfered with before

Because of the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

Save-On-Foods stores donate to Red Deer Food Bank

Thanks to some hungry central Albertans, the Red Deer Food Bank is… Continue reading

ATA local 80 hands out 3 post-secondary scholarships to students

The Alberta Teachers Association Local #80 for Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools… Continue reading

Refurbished shelters a tribute to bird lover

Purple Martin birdhouse rededication highlights celebration

Opinion: Why the fuss about wearing a mask?

Do the non-medical reasons for not wearing masks in a pandemic outweigh potential benefits?

A world of summer adventure awaits you at the library

There’s a ton of adventure available for you this summer. The Red… Continue reading

Opinion: Canada needs allies’ support in its dealings with China

Canadians are tying themselves in knots trying to fathom the China conundrum.… Continue reading

Canadians Desiree Scott, Nichelle Prince out of Challenge Cup for personal reasons

Desiree Scott has joined fellow Canadian international Nichelle Prince in dropping out… Continue reading

Most Read