BEIRUT/ANKARA, Feb 22, (Agencies): The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Thursday that fighters backing the Syrian government were deploying on the frontlines to help repel a Turkish assault, but that assistance would be needed from the Syrian army itself. “Groups aligned to the Syrian army came to Afrin, but not in the quantity or capacity to stop the Turkish occupation,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters. “The Syrian army must fulfil its duty… to protect Syria’s borders.”
The YPG has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to send troops to the Afrin region in the northwest, and pro- Damascus militias arrived there late on Tuesday. Hundreds of those fighters have deployed on front lines in Afrin battling Turkish forces, Mahmoud said. But Assad did not send the army itself, a deployment that could have sparked a wider direct confrontation with the Syrian government if Turkey did not back down. Ankara, a pro-Assad commander and Kurdish officials have all said recently that Russia intervened to stop Damascus sending the army to defend Afrin after reports of a deal with the Syrian Kurdish forces.
While Russia is Assad’s strongest ally in the war, it is also working with Turkey, which backs rebel factions, to negotiate a wider settlement to the conflict. On Thursday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said he believed there was no deal in place between the Syrian government and the YPG. “We have information that they have not reached a deal,” Bozdag said in a televised interview.
In a separate area, a witness and a war monitoring group said government forces moved into a Kurdish-held enclave in the north of the city of Aleppo on Thursday morning. The YPG denied this. Assad has repeatedly said he wants to take back every inch of Syria, but the state has tolerated the Kurdish control over the Sheikh Maqsoud area and nearby neighbourhoods in Aleppo.