Turkey and Russia agreed on Tuesday to remove the Syrian Kurdish militia to beyond 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Turkish border, after which their troops will jointly patrol a narrower strip of land in a “safe zone” Ankara has long sought in northern Syria, Reuters reported.
Beginning at noon (0900 GMT) on Wednesday, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will move in to facilitate the removal of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) members and weapons to beyond the zone in a mission that should take about six days, according to the deal.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed the deal as one that would end the bloodshed in the region, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey had no designs on Syrian territory as it continued to push the YPG south.
The YPG, the key component in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that have for years fought alongside US troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), will also leave the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij under the deal struck between Erdoğan and President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
“The main aim of the operation is to take out PKK/YPG terror organizations from the area and to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees,” Erdoğan told a joint news conference with Putin.
Ankara regards the YPG as terrorists because of their ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey.
“This operation also guarantees Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity. … We never had any interest in Syria’s land and sovereignty,” Erdoğan added.
Once the YPG are removed, Turkish and Russian troops will conduct joint patrols in northern Syria within 10 kilometers of the border, according to the deal.
Erdoğan added that Ankara would also work with Moscow for the safe return of Syrian refugees now in Turkey.