Turkey has handed over 18 men believed to be Syrian government soldiers who were seized in northeast Syria near the Turkish border earlier this week, the Turkish Defence Ministry said.
The ministry did not say who they were handed over to, but said the move came about after coordination with Russia. It took place ahead of the scheduled start on Friday of joint Turkish-Russian military patrols in northeastern Syria near the border.
The 18 men were seized during operations southeast of the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain on Tuesday, the ministry said, Reuters reported.
Ankara and Moscow agreed last week to remove YPG fighters to a depth of 30 km (19 miles) south of the border inside Syria. Russia told Turkey that the YPG had left the strip within the 150-hour deadline.
On Wednesday, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had information that the YPG, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group.
He said Turkey’s joint patrols with Russia were starting on Friday at a depth of 7 km (4 miles) within Syria. Initially the patrols were planned to be at a depth of 10 km.
Meanwhile, Erdogan said on Thursday night that Turkey planned to establish a “refugee town or towns” in a “safe zone” between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain, part of a project which state media have said would cost 151 billion lira ($26 billion).
He was meeting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday morning and said he would ask him to call for a donors’ meeting to help finance Ankara’s plans for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the region.
“I will say: ‘You make a call for an international donors’ meeting. If you don’t, I will make this call’,” Erdogan said in a conference speech.
“If it doesn’t happen, we will establish a refugee town or towns between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain,” he noted.
According to Reuters, Ankara has said it plans to resettle in Syria up to 2 million of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees that it hosts.