Turkey foiled Syrian move into Afrin after Putin talks: Erdogan

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey thwarted the possible deployment of Syrian government troops into the northwest Afrin region after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 20, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Erdogan also said that Turkish forces and their Syrian allies would begin besieging the town of Afrin in the coming days, as Ankara pursues a month-long push to sweep a Kurdish militia from its southern border.

A senior Kurdish official said at the weekend a deal had been struck for the Syrian army to enter Afrin and fight back against the Turks. On Monday morning, Syrian state media had said the pro-government militia would enter Afrin “within hours” - although the forces never materialized.

“The (Syrian deployment) was seriously stopped yesterday... It was stopped,” Erdogan told reporters following a speech in parliament.

When asked if the deployment was stopped after talks with Putin, Erdogan said: “Yes, it was stopped after those talks”.

On Monday Erdogan spoke to both Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Syria, Ankara’s government spokesman said. The three countries also agreed that their foreign ministers would meet in Moscow on March 14.

In the speech to members of his ruling AK Party, Erdogan also promised that a siege of Afrin would begin soon.

“The sieging of the Afrin city center will start rapidly in the coming days. This way, both outside help to the region and city will be cut off, and the terrorist organization will not have the means to negotiate with anyone,” he said.

Erdogan has repeatedly said Turkey has no intention of backing down from its operation in Syria’s Afrin region, launched to sweep the YPG from its southern border.

Ankara’s onslaught has further scrambled the matrix of rivalries and alliances in northern Syria among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, insurgent factions, Turkey, Iran, the United States and Russia.

Reporting by Gulsen Solaker, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Daren Butler, William Maclean