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Syrian troops heading north after Kurdish deal

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-allied Kurdish-led rebel group, patrol through the Islamic State-held village of Baghouz in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. SDF officials have said the extremists are clinging to an area less than a square kilometer in the village of Baghouz and preventing more than 1,000 civilians from leaving the area. (Aboud Hamam/DPA/Zuma Press/TNS)

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

Syrian government forces have started to reach positions in the north of the country, after Damascus agreed to help Kurdish militias facing an ongoing Turkish offensive.

West of the Euphrates River, Syria’s army entered the town of Manbij, which is included inside the “safe zone” Ankara wants to create along border areas controlled by Kurdish forces, Syrian state media reported on October 14.

Troops also reached Tel Tamer and Ain Issa to the east of the river, two towns located on a strategic highway running south of the Turkish border, reports said.

Syrian Kurdish leaders say the Moscow-brokered deal with President Bashar al-Assad’s government centers for now on Syrian troops deploying along the border and the two sides will discuss politics later.

The deal came after the United States, the Kurds’ main ally, announced it would withdraw its 1,000 troops from the border region.

Turkey launched its operation a week ago, after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw forces from outposts in northern Syria where U.S. troops have been stationed for years.

Turkey has said its incursion is targeting Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara regards as “terrorists.”

Top Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil said the “emergency measure” with oversight from Assad’s key ally, Russia, was meant to block the Turkish offensive.

“After the Americans abandoned the region, and gave the green light for the Turkish attack, we were forced to explore another option,” senior Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurd said.

“This is a preliminary military agreement. The political aspects were not discussed, and these will be discussed at later stages.”

At least 160,000 civilians have fled their homes because of the Turkish offensive, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement urging an “immediate de-escalation.”

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, the 28-member bloc condemned “Turkey’s military action which seriously undermines the stability and the security of the whole region.”

However, the EU stopped short of imposing an arms embargo. Several European states, including Germany and France, have already suspended arms exports to Ankara.

Speaking during a speech in Baku on October 14, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the EU and Arab League for their criticism of Turkey’s operation, and said Ankara would not back down from its offensive “no matter what anyone says.”

“We are determined to continue the operation until the end, without paying attention to threats. We will absolutely finish the job we started. Our battle will continue until ultimate victory is achieved,” Erdogan said.

Meanwhile, Trump suggested that Kurdish forces might have released Islamic State (IS) prisoners on purpose to draw the United States into the conflict.

He also tweeted that “big sanctions on Turkey are coming,” adding: “Do people really think we should go to war with NATO member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Trump and other U.S. officials have threatened strong action, including sanctions that could wreak havoc on the Turkish economy, if Turkey overstepped in Syria.