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Turkey releases 18 Syrian soldiers after talks with Russia

Turkey on Thursday, October 31 freed 18 Syrian soldiers that its forces captured in northeastern Syria, the defence ministry said.

The release followed talks with Russia about the return of the troops.

“18 Regime elements seized … on October 29 were handed over as a result of the coordination with the authorities of the Russian Federation,” the defense ministry tweeted.

Earlier Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said that two of the 18 had been treated in a Turkish hospital.

The Syrian troops were captured on Tuesday near the key border town of Ras al-Ayn (Serekaniye) during reconnaissance activities.

Turkish authorities then investigated if their claims of being regime troops were accurate.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had assured him that Syrian Kurdish fighters would not be allowed to stay along the Turkish border wearing “regime clothes.”

On October 9, NATO-member Turkey and its Syrian proxy forces launched the Operation Peace Spring incursion into Syria to push the Syrian Democratic Forces and its predominantly-Kurdish YPG component south after U.S. President Donald Trump said American troops would withdraw from the immediate area.

Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the SDF fought the ground war against ISIS in north and east Syria. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

After marathon talks between Erdogan and Putin in Sochi on October 22, Russia and Turkey signed a deal that would see Russian military police and Syrian border guards “facilitate the removal” of Syrian Democratic Forces from border areas.

SDF General Command on Sunday said that they had “agreed to the implementation of the deal,” saying that SDF units would redeploy “to new positions away from the Turkish-Syrian border … to stop the bloodshed and to protect the inhabitants of the region from Turkish attacks.”

On Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said “armed units” had withdrawn ahead of schedule.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and Russia, “YPG” fighters must leave a 30-km area along the entire length of the Syria-Turkey border. That will be followed by joint Russian-Turkish patrols to a depth of 10 km. The Joint Turkish-Russian patrols were due to start near the Syrian border on Friday.

With reporting from AFP

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