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Russian army chief in Syria meets with Kurds over Turkey tensions

This picture taken on March 9, 2020 in the city of Qamishli in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, shows a Russian military mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle driving in a convoy from the town of Tal Tamr to Qamishli airport. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

The head of Russian forces in Syria has met with a Kurdish commander over Turkey’s threats to launch a new incursion into northern Syria, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

Siamand Ali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, confirmed to AP that Lt. Gen. Alexander Chaiko met Sunday with Kurdish commander Mazloum Abdi in northeastern Syria, but added that he did not know details of the talks.

Chaiko’s trip to the northeast came days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to order a land invasion of northern Syria against Kurdish groups following a Nov. 13 blast in İstanbul that killed six people and wounded dozens.

Russia has called for de-escalation along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Turkey has flown a series of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq over the past week in retaliation for the İstanbul bombing, which Ankara blames on Kurdish groups. The groups have denied involvement in the bombing and claim the Turkish strikes have killed civilians and jeopardized the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

Lebanon-based pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Mayadeen TV reported Chaiko spoke with Abdi about tensions on the northern border and what can be done to prevent another major incursion by Turkey. The broadcaster, which has reporters in various parts of Syria, said Chaiko had suggested the deployment of Syrian government troops along the border with Turkey up to 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the border.

Another SDF spokesman, Aram Hanna, told Al-Arabiya TV on Monday that the Russians had put forward the Turkish side’s conditions during the talks. He added, without giving details, “We reject all the demands of the Turkish occupiers.”

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