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Erdogan says Turkish-Russian joint patrols to start in Syria this week

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Turkish-Russian joint patrols will start in northeast Syria on November 1, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced after the Kremlin said Syrian Kurdish fighters had withdrawn under a deal between Ankara and Moscow.

“We will start the joint work on the ground on Friday [November 1], namely we are starting the joint patrols,” Erdogan told parliament in a televised speech on October 30.

He added that the joint patrols will operate inside Syria within a strip of land 7 kilometers from the border.

Under the deal agreed in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi last week after Turkey’s offensive into northeastern Syria, Kurdish militia forces were given a 150-hour deadline, which expired on October 29. The joint patrols were meant to start after the deadline expired.

Erdogan said Russian authorities informed Ankara that some 34,000 members of the “terror group” have withdrawn — together with 3,260 pieces of heavy weaponry — from a zone running 30 kilometers from the Turkish-Syrian border.

“The data we have points to the fact that this wasn’t fully achieved,” Erdogan said, referring to the Russian assurances.

“We will give the necessary response after we carry out work in the field,” Erdogan added.

He again stressed that Turkey “reserves the right to carry out its own operation” if it identifies any Syrian Kurdish militia or if its forces come under attack.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from along the Turkish border to allow Turkish forces to set up the zone free of Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Trump received sharp bipartisan criticism for this decision, which some saw as a “betrayal” of Kurdish allies, and has since said some troops would remain to help prevent oil facilities from falling into the hands of Islamic State militants.

Russia, along with Iran, has provided crucial support for Assad during Syria’s civil war, while Turkey has backed rebel groups.

The conflict began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011 and has since killed more than 400,000 people.

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and Erdogan has said his country plans to resettle up to 2 million of them in northeastern Syria.