Turkish patrol kills Syrian protester amid shaky truce
IDIL, Turkey (AP) — A Syrian protester was killed after a Turkish military vehicle ran him over on Friday as it drove through an angry crowd protesting a joint Turkish-Russian patrol in northeastern Syria, Kurdish forces and a Syria war monitoring group said.
The fatal incident reflects the increasingly complicated political geography in northern Syria in the wake of U.S. decision to pull its troops away from the border and redeploy them further south. The decision earlier this month was followed by a Turkish invasion in northeastern Syria and a series of deals between Turkey and Russia, as well as between the Syrian government in Damascus and U.S. allies, the Kurdish-led forces.
The Turkish Defense ministry said Friday's joint patrol from the Syrian city of Qamishli city to the town of Derik "has been completed as planned with due care and attention to the safety of our personnel and the public against the provocateurs." It said the patrols were being supported by drones.
The Russia-Turkey deal endorsed a cease-fire after Turkey's invasion and establishment of a Turkey-administered stretch of land, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) long inside Syria. The deal also arranged for joint Turkish-Russian patrols on the flanks of the Turkey-controlled area and for Syrian Kurdish fighters to withdraw from border areas, Ankara's key demand. Turkey considers Syria's dominant Kurdish group an extension of its own Kurdish insurgency.
Moscow said Russian helicopters flew aerial patrols over the area for the first time on Thursday. Separately, Russia negotiated an arrangement that would allow Syrian government troops to deploy along the border.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops changed their focus to south of the border to secure oil bases, controlled by the Kurdish-led forces.
The Turkish invasion and the shift of powers on the ground has been unsettling for residents of the area — many of whom are Kurds who have either fled the Turkish invasion or are feeling abandoned by U.S. troops. Nearly 200,000 have been displaced by the fighting, amid warnings of demographic change to the Kurdish-populated border areas.
The man killed Friday was among a group of residents who had chased and pelted the joint Russian-Turkey convoy with shoes and stones, prompting Turkish troops to fire tear-gas to disperse the protesters.
Ten people were hospitalized, according to the Rojava Information Center, an activist operated group in Kurdish-held areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, said the man was run over in the village of Sarmasakh near the border by a Turkish vehicle that was conducting a joint patrol with the Russians — the third under the cease-fire deal brokered by Moscow.
Videos circulating online Friday show a group of men running after the Turkish-Russian vehicles as they drove, throwing stones at them. A man is seen trying to mount one of the vehicles and then men can be heard shouting, apparently after the man is run over. Other videos from the area show men, women and children pelting armored vehicles as they drive near a cemetery before speeding away.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian military about the incident.
Mutafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, tweeted that Turkish troops fired tear gas on protesters in Derik, injuring 10 people. The town is controlled by SDF and American forces, but the Turkish troops were passing through on the patrol.
The agreement with Russia — and the separate one with the U.S. — halted the Turkish invasion of Syria last month but fighting on the edges of the area now controlled by Ankara continues.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained this week that Syrian Kurdish fighters were still present in areas along the border, despite the agreements. He also said Turkish troops were being attacked by some Syrian Kurdish fighters from areas they had retreated to, adding that Turkey would not "remain a spectator" to these assaults.
Kurdish officials also complain that Turkey is seeking to expand the area it controls, keeping up its offensive east and south of Ras al-Ayn, the easternmost point of the area it now controls.
The U.N. said on Friday that 92 civilians have died so far as a result of Turkey's incursion into northern Syria. Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, said the death toll was based on "verified incidents" that included to Nov. 5.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was deeply concerned for the civilians in the area after a key water pumping station was shut down due to the violence. The Allouk station, which serves more than 400,000 people in and around the city of Hassakeh, has not been functioning since Oct. 30. The ICRC and its partners have been distributing drinking water for the newly displaced and those in displaced camps in the area.
Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.