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Syrian army expands presence in north amid rising tension with Turkey

Turkey-backed militants are pictured at a military position on the outskirts of the town of Kuljibrin, in the country’s northern Aleppo province, on August 8, 2022. (Via AFP)

As tensions between Damascus and Ankara escalate, informed sources say the Syrian army is increasing its presence in northern Syria as separatist Kurdish forces withdraw under ongoing Russian-coordinated talks between the two sides.

Citing sources close to the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper reported that Russian forces raised the level of coordination between the Syrian army and the SDF militants with the aim of enabling the Syrian army to expand their presence in the city of Tabqa and the northern countryside of Raqqah.

The sources revealed that Russian officers coordinated a meeting on Wednesday between officers of the Syrian army and leaders of the SDF in the building of the self-proclaimed “defense ministry” of the militant group in the city.

They said the meeting focused on enabling the Syrian army to be stationed in those areas as the SDF militants withdraw.

The development comes against the backdrop of Ankara’s constant threats to launch a massive military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria to establish what it calls a “secure line” along Turkey’s border with the Arab country.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again hinted at his plan for a cross-border operation in Syria to remove members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militant group, which is the backbone of the SDF.

“We will continue our fight against terrorism. Our decision to establish a 30-kilometer-deep (18.6-mile) secure line along our southern border is final,” Erdogan claimed.

Turkey has launched successive military incursions into Syria and deployed its forces in the Arab country to crush Kurdish militants.

Ankara-backed militants were deployed to northeastern Syria in October 2019 after Turkish military forces launched a cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push YPG fighters away from border areas.

Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

Militants slam Turkish backstab

Turkey has also strongly opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the beginning of the foreign-backed conflict in the Arab country in 2011 and has been supporting militants calling for his removal from power.

However, on Friday, remarks made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu angered the same Ankara-backed militants, who took to the streets in major northern cities, including A'zaz, al-Bab and Afrin, which are under the occupation of the Turkish military and the militants, to protest against what they regarded as a rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara and a stab in their back.

Cavusoglu on Thursday called for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the militants, saying, “Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this.”

He also revealed that he had briefly met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in October on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit.

In response, protesters brandished the so-called Syrian opposition flags, one of which read, “No reconciliation, the revolution continues.”

Dozens also gathered at a Turkish army checkpoint in Idlib’s Mastuma area, where they shouted slogans against both Damascus and Ankara.

Ankara reaffirms support for militants

The protests prompted the Turkish government to back down, with Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic saying in a statement on Friday that Ankara “threw full support behind the opposition and the negotiation committee throughout the political process.”

Bilgic accused the Syrian government of “dragging the political process,” adding that Cavusoglu’s remarks also pointed to this.

“Turkey, in cooperation with all stakeholders of the international community, will continue to make a strong contribution to the efforts to find a permanent solution to this conflict in line with the expectations of the Syrian people,” he claimed.

‘New attack on Syria will only benefit ruling party in Turkey’

In yet another development in recent days, Turkish intellectuals issued a joint statement calling for the prevention of a new military aggression by their country against Syria.

The intellectuals, including academicians, journalists, writers and actors, stressed that a new incursion into the Arab country will not benefit anyone but the ruling authority in Ankara, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported, citing Turkish media.

In return, they continued, it will cause great harm to the rest of the Turkish people, in addition to the young people who are forced to fight and be killed in foreign lands for the survival of the ruling Turkish government.

Allocating huge costs for arms and war in Turkey, where millions of citizens are facing huge living difficulties in all fields, will aggravate the economic problems of the country’s citizens and the difficulties of daily life, the Turkish intellectual warned.

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