ANKARA (Middle East Eye) – Russian officials are trying to convince Damascus and Kurdish militants to withdraw from the northern Syrian city of Tal Rifaat to prevent a Turkish ground offensive, according to Al Jazeera and al-Araby al-Jadeed.
Turkish officials told Al Jazeera that the Russian side is making efforts to meet Turkey’s demands in northern Syria as an alternative to the military operation, adding that Ankara stipulated the withdrawal of the so-called Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from the cities of Manbij, Kobane (known as Ain al-Arab in Arabic) and Tal Rifaat.
Turkey is also open to the return of Syrian government administration in some border areas as an alternative to YPG-led so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed militia.
Tal Rifaat is significant due to its strategic position, sandwiched between Turkish and Syrian government forces, and has at times become a point of frustration for Ankara due to repeated deadly attacks on its positions in the area that Ankara blames on the YPG.
Middle East Eye on Friday reported that Turkey was seeking a deal with Russia to remove the YPG from Tal Rifaat in a ground offensive in the coming days.
Moscow has been given time to meet Ankara’s conditions, according to Al Jazeera’s sources. The alternative would be a military operation.
Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that the Turkish military operation in northern Syria will be conducted in stages, the first of which may start within days and include the Tal Rifaat region.
The offensive would then move to Kobane, a majority Kurdish city, and Manbij, which historically has a higher Arab population.
According to al-Araby al-Jadeed, Turkish forces are continuing to prepare for an attack on Tal Rifaat, while also consulting with Russia, a key backer of the Syrian government.
Though predominantly controlled by the YPG and its political arm, the PYD, the Syrian government maintains some presence in Tal Rifaat.
According to the newspaper’s sources, the Syrian government’s forces are expected to withdraw from the area if Turkish-Russian understandings on Tal Rifaat are completed. Similarly, Turkish-backed militants have been told to prepare to take control of the area.