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Turkey says in talks with Russia on joint patrols in Syrian city

By AFP - Mar 12,2019 - Last updated at Mar 12,2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a news conference following their talks in Sochi, Russia, on September 17, 2018 (Reuters photo)

ANKARA — Turkey and Russia are holding talks on joint patrols in the northern Syrian city of Tal Rifaat held by a Kurdish militia opposed by Ankara, the Turkish defence ministry said on Tuesday.

Despite Russia’s staunch support for the Damascus regime and Ankara supporting Syrian opposition fighters, the two countries have been working closely in a bid to end Syria’s long war.

“With the aim of preventing attacks from Tal Rifaat, coordination continues for future joint patrols with Russia in this region,” said a Turkish defence ministry official quoted by state news agency Anadolu.

Tal Rifaat is east of Afrin, which is held by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who captured the region after a military operation supported by Turkish military early 2018.

Turkey last year threatened to launch a cross-border offensive to capture Tal Rifaat after taking Afrin, but Russia had made assurances that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia was no longer there.

Turkish officials say the YPG is a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

From time to time, the Turkish army and the YPG exchange fire in the Afrin region. A Turkish soldier was killed there last December after coming under fire from the YPG, the ministry said at the time.

Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said last week separate Turkish and Russian patrols would begin in Syria’s north-western Idlib region as part of a Moscow-Ankara agreement.

Late last year Turkey threatened to start a military operation east of the Euphrates River. But it appeared to put its plans on ice after the US said Washington would withdraw American ground forces from Syria.

Although Ankara has remained fairly quiet on any future offensive since then, the ministry said high-level talks continued with the US and Russia “regarding preparations for the east of the Euphrates”.

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