Turkish military forces have reportedly brought in new reinforcements to Syria's northeastern province of Hasakah, as Ankara is aggressively seeking to cement its military presence in the embattled region following a cross-border offensive earlier this year.
A convoy of nearly 40 vehicles crossed into the Syrian territory through the Kafr Lusin border crossing on Saturday, and headed towards Turkish positions, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced on March 13 that Russian and Turkish military officials had agreed on the details of a new ceasefire in the Idlib de-escalation zone following four days of talks in Ankara.
Akar said the first joint patrol by Turkey and Russia on the M4 highway in Idlib would take place on March 15, and that Turkey and Russia would set up joint coordination centers in the area.
The announcement followed a telephone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan the previous day to discuss the implementation of the agreements the two leaders had reached in Moscow the previous week.
“Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed the importance of continued close joint efforts, first of all between the Russian and Turkish defense ministries, in order to ensure a stable ceasefire and further stabilization of the situation,” a Kremlin press release read.
“It was agreed to maintain a regular dialogue at various levels, including personal contacts,” the statement added.
Turkish troops deployed to Syria test positive for COVID-19
Separately, a total of 140 Turkish soldiers and police officers deployed to the mainly Kurdish-populated northern Syrian city of Afrin and elsewhere in the country’s Idlib province have tested positive for coronavirus.
Governor of Turkey's southernmost province of Hatay, Rahmi Dogan, said 120 police officers in Afrin and 20 soldiers at Idlib Air Battalion have been infected with the virus.
According to Dogan, there were no confirmed cases among civilians in those areas.
Turkish-backed militants torch crop lands in Hasakah
Moreover, dozens of hectares of vital crops and farmland have been set on fire by Turkish-backed Takfiri militants in Hasakah province.
Syria’s official news agency SANA, citing local sources speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that wheat and barley fields have been burnt on the outskirts of the al-Arishah town.
Turkish-backed militants were deployed to northern Syria last October after Turkish military forces launched a cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militants away from border areas.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.
More than 200,000 people have been internally displaced by the Turkish offensive, according to the United Nations.
On October 22 last year, Putin and Erdogan signed a memorandum of understanding that required the YPG militants to withdraw from the Turkish-controlled "safe zone" in northeastern Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow would run joint patrols around the area.
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