US and Turkey begin joint patrols under Syria 'safe zone' agreement
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raises new doubts about deal
The US and Turkey on Sunday began joint patrols in north-eastern Syria under a deal aimed at easing tension between Ankara and US-backed Kurdish forces.
Six Turkish armoured vehicles crossed into Syria through an opening in the concrete wall erected between the two countries as two helicopters flew overhead. Turkey's Defence Ministry said drones were also being used.
The US and Turkey agreed on August 7 to establish a safe zone between the Turkish border and the Syrian areas east of the Euphrates River, controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.
The YPG is a US ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria but Turkey considers the group a terrorist organisation and has repeatedly threatened to launch an offensive to drive them back from the border.
US Col Myles Caggins, spokesman for the coalition against ISIS, said the Turkish forces "observed first-hand progress on destroyed YPG fortifications and areas where YPG elements voluntarily departed the area".
Turkey and the US set up an operations centre to oversee the safe zone last month but differences remain as to how far into Syria it will extend. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said US leader Donald Trump had promised it would be 32 kilometres wide, but that has not been confirmed by the US.
Hours after the patrols began, Mr Erdogan raised new doubts about deal.
"We are negotiating with the US for the safe zone but we see at every step that what we want and what they have in mind is not the same thing," he said.
"It seems that our ally is looking for a safe zone for the terrorist organisation, not for us. We reject such understanding."
The Syrian government, which withdrew from the area after a civil war broke out in 2011, condemned the joint patrol, calling it "an aggression in every sense of the word".
Its Foreign Ministry said the move was a "blatant violation of international law and the sovereignty" of Syria.
Turkey has carried out several incursions into Syria in the course of the war to contain the influence of Kurdish forces along its border.
Last year, Turkish and US troops carried out joint patrols in the northern town of Manbij, on the border of the Kurdish-controlled areas.
Updated: September 9, 2019 01:44 AM