DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian government forces started deploying Thursday in areas close to the Turkish border in the country’s northeast as part of an agreement reached between Russia and Turkey, state media reported.
News agency SANA said troops were deploying between the towns of Jawadiyeh and Malkiyeh, also known as Derik, while state-run TV said Syrian border guards will be positioned at six points near to the frontier.
The deployment is part of a cease-fire deal brokered by Moscow last month along much of the northeastern border that seeks to clear the area of the Kurdish fighters who were key U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group. Since the agreement was reached, Russia and Turkey began joint patrols along a narrower strip directly on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkey began a major military offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria last month, capturing dozens of towns and villages.
SANA reported that since Turkey began its invasion of northern Syria on Oct. 9, some 19,776 families have been displaced from the northern countryside of Hasakeh province. It added that services are being provided to the displaced in 48 housing shelters.
Also Thursday President Bashar Assad said there are possibilities that a former British army officer who helped found the White Helmets volunteer organization in Syria was killed in Turkey.
Turkish officials had said that the death of James Le Mesurier in Istanbul this week is under investigation. Le Mesurier was the founder and CEO of May Day Rescue, which founded and trained the White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, a group of local humanitarian volunteers.
He was 48 and had moved to Turkey with his wife four years ago, according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency. Le Mesurier’s body was found near his home in the Beyoglu district by worshippers on their way to a mosque, the agency reported.
“Maybe the founder of the White Helmets was planning to write a book about his life. This is unacceptable,” Assad said in an interview with Russia’s state-owned Russia 24. “These are possibilities, but they are big possibilities.”
Assad added that “there is a big possibility that Turkish intelligence carried out this act at the orders of foreign agencies. I repeat these are possibilities.”