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Syrian, Turkish forces exchange fire in first border zone clash

War monitor reports heavy fighting near border town of Ras al-Ayn after Kurdish fighters forced to retreat by US military withdrawal

Turkish soldiers at a position east of the northeastern Syrian town of Ras al-AIn watch as a tank fires on positions held by fighters from the Syrian Democratic Army (SDF) on October 28, 2019. (Nazeer Al-khatib / AFP)
Turkish soldiers at a position east of the northeastern Syrian town of Ras al-AIn watch as a tank fires on positions held by fighters from the Syrian Democratic Army (SDF) on October 28, 2019. (Nazeer Al-khatib / AFP)

Syrian government forces and the Turkish military clashed on Tuesday for the first time since Ankara launched an offensive in northeastern Syria three weeks ago, a war monitor said.

“Heavy fighting erupted for the first time between the Syrian and Turkish armies,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The Britain-based monitoring group said artillery and machine-gun fire was exchanged near the village of Assadiya, south of the border town of Ras al-Ayn.

At least six Syrian soldiers were wounded in the fighting, the Observatory said.

The Turkish military and its Syrian proxies attacked Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on October 9 with the aim of creating a roughly 30-kilometer (20-mile) deep buffer zone.

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters gather at a position east of the northeastern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, facing positions held by fighters from the Syrian Democratic Army (SDF), on October 28, 2019. (Nazeer Al-khatib / AFP)

Kurdish forces agreed to withdraw from a 120-kilometer (75 mile) long, Arab-majority segment of the 440-kilometer (275-mile) border zone, although clashes have been reported since.

Turkey subsequently reached a deal with the Syrian government’s main backer Russia for Kurdish forces to pull back from the entire border area.

Left in the lurch by a US troop withdrawal from the border area, Kurdish forces turned to the government for protection.

Government forces are now expected to deploy along much of the border zone but a 10-kilometer-deep strip is to be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops, starting from Tuesday.

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