Ankara grapples with security, repatriation in Syria as cease-fire deadline expires

An air of volatility hangs over the newly created “safe zone” in northeast Syria following a two-week Turkish incursion to eradicate US-backed Kurdish forces from its southern border.

Hours before a cease-fire negotiated between Turkish and Russian officials — allowing for the withdrawal the People’s Protection Units (YPG) element of Kurdish-led forces that held the area since 2014 — was set to expire at 3 p.m. GMT today, Syrian regime forces clashed with the Turkish military, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Initial reports indicate at least six Syrian soldiers were injured and a dozen were taken captive in the exchange, the first such event since the Turkish incursion began on Oct. 9. The clash took place near the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, highlighting the looming security challenges for Ankara as plans to maintain a Turkish troop presence in the area and eventually repatriate Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey remain in place.

US President Donald Trump greenlit the Turkish incursion, known as Operation Peace Spring, during an Oct. 6 phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which he agreed to pull back American troops stationed in the region. Since then, YPG forces seen as security threat by Ankara have largely withdrawn from the border area, as required by back-to-back US and Russian cease-fire agreements, after initially resisting an offensive by Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian forces.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.