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28 Dec, 2018 09:23

Syrian Army ‘raises flag’ in country’s Kurdish province for 1st time since start of civil war

Syrian Army ‘raises flag’ in country’s Kurdish province for 1st time since start of civil war

Damascus says it has deployed troops to the city of Manbij, the focal point of a tense standoff between Kurds and Turkey, as the government continues attempts to reassert control over the strategic border area in Syria’s north.

The Kurdish YPG militia on Friday called on Damascus to secure Manbij, located close to the border with Turkey. Ankara earlier said it plans to conduct an “anti-terrorist operation” around the city, with the YPG being the target.

In response, Damascus said its troops were already in the north and raised the flag in the “area of Manbij.” In a statement from the general staff broadcast by the Syrian media, the top brass said their army was determined to “crush terrorism and defeat all invaders and occupiers” as well as to provide security for all Syrian citizens.

Also on rt.com Kurdish YPG calls on Syrian government to protect Manbij from Turkish attack

Just how far-reaching the Syrian deployment is and if it’s taking place at all is yet to be confirmed by other sources, as is the Syrian Army troops’ arrival in the city proper.

Skeptical over the statement from Damascus, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the “flag-raising” a “psychological action.” He, however, acknowledged that there would be no need for the Turkish Army op in Manbij if the Kurds pull out of the city.


Meanwhile, Turkey-backed militants opposed to both the government and the Kurds said they were moving fighters towards Manbij and were prepared to start an operation there, if necessary.

Also on rt.com Erdogan: Reports of Damascus taking control of Manbij, Kurdish-held town bordering Turkey is ‘psyop’

Damascus is trying to assert full control over Syrian territory, a goal that remains elusive despite significant progress over the year. Among the contested zones are the province of Idlib, some Kurdish-controlled areas and a region on the border with Jordan, where a US military outpost is located.

The Kurds and the central government have remained mostly neutral towards each other over the years of the conflict and occasionally allied against jihadist groups. The Manbij maneuver does not make them immediate allies, but with Kurds de facto asking protection from the Syrian government, Damascus now seems in a stronger position to negotiate the degree of autonomy the Kurds would have after the political transition in the country. They currently control large swaths of territory east of Euphrates River, which is rich in oil, and crude revenues would be crucial for Syria’s post-war reconstruction.

Also on rt.com Arab states are making nice with Assad’s Syria. Will the West follow suit?

Manbij became the focus of tense war of words earlier this month, after Erdogan said he was prepared to order a new “anti-terrorist operation” targeting the Kurds. He said the move was necessary because the US failed to make the YPG remove their fighters from the area, despite promises to do so.

The US, a key ally of the Kurds for the past several years, has meanwhile decided to withdraw its troops from Kurd-controlled areas in Syria, including Manbij. The withdrawal promises to be a game-changer for Kurds, who relied on American backing for protection against Turkey, but it is also yet to happen.

Ankara has amassed a fighting force near its southern border over the past few weeks but stopped short of launching the promised offensive. Turkey sees all Kurdish militias as an extension of its domestic Kurdish insurgency and attacked them repeatedly in both Syria and Iraq.

Also on rt.com Moscow welcomes Syrian Army entry to Manbij, will ‘synchronize expectations’ with Ankara

The situation is to be discussed on Saturday by top Turkish and Russian officials at a meeting in Moscow. Russia, a backer of Damascus in its fight against jihadist groups, said the deployment in Manbij may be a good sign that stabilization of Syria is progressing. But a spokesman for the Kremlin indicated that the outcome would depend on how the talks in Moscow unfold.

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