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Syrian regime fighters and Turkey-backed rebels clash following Kurdish pull-back

A Turkish tank fires at Kurdish areas in northeast Syria [file photo-Getty]

Date of publication: 29 October, 2019

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Clashes between Turkey-backed rebels and Syria regime forces saw six killed, as Kurdish fighters complete their withdrawal from border zones as part of Ankara's cross-border operation.
Deadly clashes erupted between Turkish and Syrian regime forces on Tuesday, the first outbreak of violence between the two sides since Ankara launched its cross-border offensive against the Kurds in Syria earlier this month.

The clashes erupted despite a deal reached between Turkey and Syria regime-backer Russia to ensure the Kurdish withdrawal by the Tuesday deadline.

Following Russia’s confirmation the Kurdish pull-out was complete, the Turkish presidency said it would conduct joint patrols with Russia to verify the Kurds had evacuated the designated "safe zone" on the border.

Comment: Cutting deals with the devil: US betrayal pushes Syria's Kurds into clutches of regime

At least six Syrian regime fighters were killed in heavy clashes that broke out between regime forces and Turkey-backed rebel fighters earlier on Tuesday, according to the UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Heavy fighting erupted for the first time between the Syrian and Turkish armies," the group said, adding that five soldiers were killed by artillery and machine gun fire, while pro-Turkey rebel fighters executed a captured soldier.

Turkey-backed rebel fighters the Sultan Murad Division claimed to have killed at least 20 regime soldiers and captured many more, however the reports have not yet been verified.

Russia-Turkey deal

Kurdish forces earlier this month agreed to withdraw from a 120-kilometre (75 mile) long, Arab-majority segment of the 440-kilometre (275-mile) border zone, yet several clashes since led to Turkey seeking a deal with Syrian regime backer Russia to facilitate the Kurdish pull-back from the entire border area.

The run-up to the withdrawal deadline was tense, with several reports that the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) forces has not fully withdrawn with only 15 minutes to go.

Turkey had threatened to attack Kurds directly if they had not fully withdrawn by 6pm local time (3pm GMT) on Tuesday.

Yet Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed the withdrawal would be completed "ahead of time" on Tuesday.

"Syrian border guards and our military police have been deployed there," Shoigu said during a visit to Armenia.

The move follows the deal signed by Russia and Turkey last week for Russian military police and Syrian border guards to "facilitate the removal" of the YPG from within 30 kilometres (18 miles) of the border.

The agreement was reached after lengthy negotiations between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi last week.

Turkish-backed militias

The withdrawal has, however, not prevented outbreaks of violence.

Syrian rebel militias being armed by Ankara have killed civilians in areas abandoned by the US after its pull-out in October, US intelligence officials told TIME magazine.

The officials added they feared the militias were using weapons that the US sold to Turkey to commit war crimes.

Other reports have verified three civilians killed by the group accused of being members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Kurdish insurgent group operating in Turkey.

A video of the Turkish militia also circulated on social media on Tuesday, showing them taking down the Syrian flag near the village of Ras al-Ayn, and cheering the defeat of "Assad and the PKK terrorists", referring to the Kurdish YPG. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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