Turkey and Russia Launch Joint Patrols in Syria

Turkey and Russia have held their first round of joint patrols in Syria as part of a deal that forced Kurdish forces away from Turkey’s border.

The patrols began Friday near the border town of Derbasiyeh, where Kurdish fighters have already pulled out.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said an initial patrol covered an area 87 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide and said, “The first joint patrol was completed as planned.” The Russian Defense Ministry said the joint patrol included nine military vehicles, protected by an armored personnel carrier.

The patrols follow an agreement that Russia and Turkey signed last week, which gave Kurdish forces 150 hours to withdraw from territory along Syria’s border with Turkey.

Turkey and Russia launched joint patrols, Nov. 1, 2019, in northeastern Syria, under a deal that halted a Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

That deal halted a Turkish offensive against the Kurdish forces that followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October.

The Kurdish forces had been aiding the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State fighters, and many Kurdish leaders criticized the United States for the withdrawal. Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists.

The cease-fire deal also allowed Syrian government forces to move back into border regions that they had been absent from for years.

Also Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Istanbul about Ankara’s plans to repatriate Syrian refugees to a proposed northeastern “safe zone” in Syria.

Guterres said the United Nations would study the plan and “stressed the basic principles relating to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees,” the U.N. said in a statement.

Turkey has long wanted to create a “safe zone” just across its border in Syria to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it has taken in during the conflict. Turkish officials say the “safe zone” could house up to 2 million refugees and has said that all returns would be on a voluntary basis.

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