Syria: heavy clashes between regime troops and Turkish-backed forces

Turkey invaded north-east Syria last month to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters near the border

Russian and Turkish military vehicles, baring traces of objects and liquids thrown at them by Kurdish protesters, take part in a joint Turkish-Russian patrol near the town of Al-Muabbadah in the northeastern Syrian Hassake province on the border with Turkey, on November 8, 2019.   / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN

Heavy clashes broke out between Syrian regime forces and fighters backed by Turkey in north-east Syria, Syrian state media reported.

Several people were injured, including a cameraman for state-run Syrian TV, according to both Sana and opposition war monitor the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory and Kurdish news agency Hawar said a Syrian major general and a colonel were also wounded.

Turkey invaded north-east Syria last month to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters near the border. The Kurdish groups called in Syrian government forces to halt Turkey's advance. Syrian government forces have since clashed with Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters, despite a shaky truce brokered by Russia.

Sana said the clashes Saturday involved heavy machine gun fire and occurred in the village of Um Shaifa near the town of Ras Al Ayn, which was captured by Turkish-led forces troops last month.

The Observatory said government forces withdrew from several areas including Um Shaifa, leaving Kurdish fighters alone to face the attacks, which also involved Turkish drones.

Syrian state TV said one of its cameramen was wounded in the fighting, while the Observatory said several were wounded including a paramedic.

Turkey's Defense Ministry said Saturday it had recorded eight violations or attacks carried out by Syrian Kurdish fighters in the last 24 hours, despite separate ceasefire agreements that Turkey has reached with Russia and the United States. The ministry said on its Twitter account that the Syrian Kurdish fighters attacked with mortars, rockets and sniper fire, without saying where the attacks had occurred.

The ministry gave no mention of fighting with Syrian government troops.

Last week, Turkish forces captured 18 Syrian government soldiers in the area and set them free hours later following mediation by Russia.

On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticised a US decision to send US troops to protect oil fields in eastern Syria, saying no one but Syria has rights over the country's reserves.

The US has said the move is aimed at preventing the oil fields from falling into the hands of ISIS militants. Turkey is concerned that US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters will benefit from the oil revenues. Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants fighting inside.

"To come from tens of thousands of miles away and to say we will put the country's wealth, oil reserves to use is against international law. And we oppose it," Mr Cavusoglu said at the end of a regional economic cooperation meeting. "These (reserves) belong to the Syrian people and should be used in a way that benefits the people of Syria."

On Friday, a Syrian protester was killed after a Turkish military vehicle ran him over on Friday as it drove through an angry crowd protesting a joint Turkish-Russian patrol.

The fatal incident reflects the increasingly complicated political geography in northern Syria in the wake of US decision to pull its troops away from the border and redeploy them further south.

A Syria summit will be held in London in early December between the leaders of Turkey, France, Germany and Britain, the Turkish presidency said on Friday.

"It was decided to organise this four-way summit on the sidelines of the Nato summit scheduled in London on December 3 and 4," Anadolu state news agency quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's adviser Ibrahim Kalin as saying.

Mr Erdogan is expected to sit down with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson at a time of high tensions in the Nato alliance over Turkey's offensive against Kurdish forces, which began last month.