Syria clashes between pro-Turkish forces and Kurds leave 15 dead, monitor says
Clashes in northeast Syria between pro-Ankara fighters and a force led by Syrian Kurds left 15 dead on Saturday, a monitor said, as a former UN prosecutor said Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP that nine pro-Turkish fighters and six members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed in a zone between the towns of Tal Tamer and Ras al-Ain.
State news agency SANA said earlier that Syrian government forces had entered the provincial borders of Ras al-Ain near Turkey's border on Saturday, an area that was taken by Turkish forces in their weeks-long offensive against Syria's Kurds. The Observatory said the Syrian government's deployment there was its largest in years.
Turkey and its Syrian proxies on 9 October launched a cross-border attack against Kurdish-held areas, grabbing a 120km-long swathe of Syrian land along the frontier.
The incursion has left hundreds dead and driven 300,000 people to flee their homes in the latest humanitarian crisis in Syria's brutal eight-year war.
Turkey and Russia earlier this week struck a deal in Sochi for more Kurdish forces to withdraw from the frontier on both sides of the Turkish-held area under the supervision of Russian and Syrian forces.
On Saturday, the Britain-based Observatory said about 2,000 Syrian troops and hundreds of military vehicles were deploying around what Turkey calls its "safe zone". Government forces were accompanied by Russian military police, it said.
Moscow said earlier that 300 Russian military police had arrived in Syria to help ensure that Kurdish forces withdraw to a line 30km from the border, in keeping with the agreement.
Under the Sochi deal, Kurdish forces have until late Tuesday to withdraw from the border at either end of the Turkish-held area, before joint Turkish-Russian patrols start in a narrower 10km strip there.
Ankara eventually wants to set up a “safe zone” on Syrian soil along the entire length of its 440km-long border, and resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey.
The SDF has objected to some provisions of the Sochi agreement and has so far maintained several of its border posts.
Turkish President Erdogan warned on Saturday that Ankara would "clear terrorists" along its border if the Kurdish forces, which his country views as an offshoot of its own banned insurgency, did not withdraw by the deadline.
Meanwhile, former prosecutor and UN investigator Carla del Ponte said in an interview published on Saturday that Erdogan should be investigated and indicted for war crimes over the incursion, Reuters reported.
"For Erdogan to be able to invade Syrian territory to destroy the Kurds is unbelievable," said del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general who prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
"An investigation should be opened into him and he should be charged with war crimes," she told the Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Wochenende in an interview.
Ankara has long accused its western allies of turning a blind eye to what it says is the serious security threat it faces from Kurdish fighters based both inside Turkey and in Syria.