Turkey captured 18 people in northern Syria who said they were Syrian government forces, the defense ministry said on Tuesday, October 29.
“18 people who claimed to be regime elements were captured alive” in the southeast of Ras al-Ayn during search, reconnaissance and security activities, the ministry tweeted.
“The issue is being examined and coordinated with the authorities of the Russian Federation,” it added.
Ras al-Ayn, also known as Serekaniye, is a key border town at one end of what is known as Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring zone in northern Syria.
There were reports earlier on Tuesday of deadly clashes between Syrian government and Turkish forces near the town.
Videos and images shared on social media appeared to show Turkey-backed Syrian rebels with several captives and several dead bodies. In one case, the fighters posed with a dead soldier they described as a “regime swine.”
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.”
NATO-member Turkey launched its Operation Peace Spring incursion into Syria on October 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the majority of U.S. troops from northeast Syria. Turkey’s armed forces and Syrian opposition groups operating under the banner of the Syrian National Army aimed to push the SDF and its predominantly-Kurdish YPG component south in order to occupy a 30-km-deep buffer zone along the border.
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.
A 150-hour deadline given for the pullout of fighters expired at 1500 GMT on Tuesday, and Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu said “armed units” had withdrawn ahead of schedule.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. Turkey’s defence ministry on Tuesday said preparations for the joint patrols had begun, with mine clearing and reconnaissance flights on patrol routes.
On Sunday, SDF General Command 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.”