ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is discussing with Russia how to address the continued presence of Kurdish YPG militants in areas covered by an agreement between the two countries, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday.
Ankara halted its incursion against the YPG last month after agreeing with Moscow for the YPG to pull out of a swathe of land east of the Euphrates river, as well as the towns of Tel Rifat and Manbij, west of the river.
Turkey has complained that the withdrawal has not been completed, and threatened to resume its offensive. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that it was almost done, and added that Ankara had assured Moscow that it did not plan to launch a new military operation.
Akar said that Russia told Turkey on Oct. 29 that 34,000 militants and more than 3,200 heavy weapons were removed from a 30-km deep strip of land in Syria on the Turkish border.
“Findings to the contrary are being discussed with the Russian Federation,” Akar told a parliamentary commission.
Akar said Turkey had determined that the YPG was still present in the Manbij region “wearing the clothes of the (Syrian government) regime elements”, and had asked Russia to address the issue. Talks with Russia on increasing patrols in Tel Rifat were ongoing, he said.
Turkey and Russia have backed opposing sides in Syria’s eight-year civil war but they have worked together on several fronts to broker deals between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Moscow, and the opposition, backed by Turkey.
The two countries agreed in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib region of northwest Syria. Idlib is the last remaining major rebel stronghold and is home to some three million Syrians, some of whom fled violence in other parts of the country.
Despite the agreement, fighting has continued in Idlib. An attack by Syrian government forces on Wednesday killed at least 15 at a displaced persons camp, rescue workers said.
Akar said on Thursday that a permanent ceasefire could be established in Idlib when government forces withdraw behind the lines previously agreed with Russia.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans)