Putin, Erdogan agree to share patrols in northeastern Syria

The presidents of Turkey and Russia met in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, hours before a five-day ceasefire between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria expired.

Bashar al-Assad, angered by Turkish incursion, calls Erdogan 'a thief'

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool via Reuters)

The leaders of Russia and Turkey have made a deal to share control of Syria's northeast that requires Kurdish fighters to clear the entire length of the Syria-Turkey border.

The deal allows Turkey to maintain control of areas it pushed into launching its offensive into Syria earlier this month.

The agreement allows Russian and Syrian troops to control the rest of the border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also agreed that their troops will conduct joint patrols of the border area after meeting Tuesday in Sochi.

The agreement gives Kurdish fighters another 150 hours beginning Wednesday afternoon to clear all remaining areas alongside the 440-kilometre Turkey-Syria border.

Russia has strengthened its power broker role in Syria, especially after the U.S. abruptly decided to pull its troops out of northeast Syria two weeks ago.

Trump's move effectively abandoned Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have been a leading U.S. partner in battling forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as in guarding captured ISIS fighters.

Turkish soldiers on an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) drive near the Turkish-Syrian border in Ceylanpinar, Turkey, on Tuesday. Turkey wants to control a so-called extending more than 400 kilometres along the border, in part to repatriate scores of Syrian refugees. (Huseyin Aldemir/Reuters)

The pullout opened the way for Turkey to launch its offensive against Kurdish fighters on Oct. 9, which has been paused the past five days under the U.S.-brokered ceasefire.

Russia's defence minister Sergei Shogu said about 500 suspected militants have fled captivity from northeastern Syria since the start of Turkey's offensive. Shoigu said efforts are now being taken to apprehend the captives who fled. 

The UN said Tuesday that since Turkey launched its offensive, more than 176,000 people have been displaced, including nearly 80,000 children, and "critical infrastructure has been damaged."

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that power lines have been damaged, reportedly affecting at least four medical facilities.

He said the Alouk water station, which serves over 400,000 people in Al-Hassakeh city and surrounding displacement camps, has received temporary repairs and generators are now being used to supply safe water for the population in the area.

Dujarric told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that Imran Riza, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria, said after visiting the northeast that he was grateful UN appeals for humanitarian access were successful and water was restored, "averting more serious humanitarian problems."

Assad pledges to 'expel the invader'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday gave a symbolic show of Damascus's goal of regaining the border, visiting troops in northwestern Idlib province, where his forces are battling rebels. Idlib is adjacent to an enclave along the border that Turkey captured several years ago in another incursion. Turkey also has observation points inside Idlib.

Assad called Erdogan "a thief, he stole the factories and the wheat and the oil in co-operation with Daesh (the Islamic State group) and now is stealing the land."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Syrian army troops in war-torn northwestern Idlib province on Tuesday. (SANA via Reuters)

He said his government had offered a clemency to Kurdish fighters — whom it considers separatists — to "ensure that everyone is ready to resist the aggression" and fight the Turkish assault.

Syrian state media reported Tuesday that government forces entered new areas in Hassakeh province at the far eastern end of the border, under the arrangement with the Kurds.

"We are in the middle of a battle and the right thing to do is to rally efforts to lessen the damages from the invasion and to expel the invader sooner or later," Assad told his troops.

A Turkish military assault on Kurdish fighters is underway in northeastern Syria. It was made possible by a U.S. decision to withdraw American military personnel in that area. Today on Front Burner, CBC Moscow correspondent Chris Brown discusses how Russia, a country with a large military presence in Syria, looks to fill the gap left by the United States. He talks about his recent trip to Syria, escorted by the Russian military, on what he says was, "effectively, a propaganda tour."

Meanwhile, U.S. troops pulling out of Syria were headed to neighbouring Iraq, but Iraq's military said Tuesday the troops did not have permission to stay in the country.

The Iraqi military in a statement said the American troops currently withdrawing from Syria have acquired permission from the Iraqi Kurdish regional government to enter Iraq to later be transferred out of the country. It added that these troops do not have any approval to stay in Iraq.

The statement appears to contradict U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper who has said that under the current plan, all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence.

Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.

Senate, House each have Turkey bills

In the U.S., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday denouncing Turkey's invasion and gently prodding Trump Trump to halt his withdrawal of U.S. troops from the embattled country.

But McConnell, from Kentucky, said lawmakers should refrain from imposing sanctions on Turkey for now, saying, "We don't want to further drive a NATO ally into the arms of the Russians."

That puts him into conflict with the Democratic-led House, where a vote on a sanctions measure is planned for next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seen last week, expressed doubt that sanctions were an effective measure to contain the Turks. (Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)

McConnell's resolution says the withdrawal of American troops should be halted "where practical," and says the U.S. should continue using air power to attack ISIS fighters in Syria.

It also says Trump should rescind his invitation to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a White House visit until a solid ceasefire between Turkish and Kurdish forces has been reached. Many lawmakers have opposed that invitation as an unwarranted prize to an anti-democratic strongman.

Democratic congressman Eliot Engel of New York said sanctions are still needed, despite the ceasefire and Trump's consideration of retaining some troops in Syria.

"The president is unpredictable. You never know what he's going to do from time to time," he said.