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Russian troops enter disputed Kurdish-held Syrian city

Syrian Democratic Forces have been spotted driving US humvees in Manbij [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2017

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As Turkish-backed rebel fighters advance on a Kurdish held city close to its borders, Russia has frantically sent troops to Manbij as a confusing situation develops in the area.

Reports have emerged of an aid convoy guarded by heavily armed Russian troops has made its way into a disputed Kurdish-held city, which appears to be the next target of Turkish-backed rebel fighters.

Kurdish fighters have been spotted raising the Russian flag in Manbij as convoy entered, while Humvees with US flags have also been spotted patrolling the city.
 
US-backed Kurdish fighters in Manbij have fought protracted battles with the Euphrates Shield rebel force close to Manbij this week.

It has led the Syrian Democratic Forces - mostly consisting of Kurdish fighters - to reportedly offer Manbij to the regime in a truce brokered by Moscow.

Russian media has also released footage that allegedly shows Kurdish fighters fortifying the villages outside the city.

Russian Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy said on Friday that the Kurdish People's Protection Forces - a key component in the Syrian Democratic Forces - have agreed to leave Manbij.

This has been the main demand of Turkey which wants to clear areas along its border of Kurdish and IS elements and has recently struck up a good relationship with Russia.

Washington has denied it is aware of any deal between the Kurds and Syrian regime, but it is tracking the armed Russian convoy which is heading to the disputed area.

"It's a rapidly evolving situation and we're keeping an eye on it," said US Spokesperson Eric Pahon, according to Turkish news agency Anadolu. "We don't want to cause any further instability in an already complicated battle space."

Manbij was held by IS until the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured the city in August 2016.

IS still hold vast territories in the area, and has been under pressure from rebel, Kurdish and regime forces advances in Aleppo province.

Thousands of Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled their homes this week as regime troops advance, according to observers.

It comes as a chaotic situation unfolds in northern Syria, where rebel, regime, Kurdish and IS forces compete for territory.

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