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Damascus condemns Turkish patrols around Syria’s Manbij

A handout picture realeased by the Turkish Armed Forces shows Turkish soldiers accompanied by armoured vehicles patrolling between the city of Manbij in northern Syria and an area it controls after a 2016-2017 military incursion on June 18, 2018. Turkey said it had started military patrols in an area around the Kurdish-held city of Manbij, in line with an agreement with the United States to scale down tensions in the region. / AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO AND TURKISH ARMED FORCES / Handout

Syria’s foreign ministry on Tuesday condemned Turkish military patrols around the northern city of Manbij, launched the previous day under a deal with the United States.

Manbij is held by a US-backed alliance dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), but Ankara considers them “terrorists” and has threatened to attack the city.

In a first step on Monday, Turkish armoured vehicles began patrolling around Manbij, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Ankara has said its forces would eventually move into the city itself.

The Turkish patrols are part of a deal to reduce tensions around Manbij, where US troops are also present, but Syria’s government sees them as an invasion.

“Syria strongly condemns and absolutely rejects the incursion of Turkish and American forces into the area of Manbij city,” said a foreign ministry source, quoted by state news agency SANA.

The source condemned the move as part of “the continued Turkish and American aggression on the sovereignty, security and unity of the lands of the Syrian Arab Republic”.

Turkey has backed rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but has also supported operations against the YPG in the north.

After ousting the Kurdish force from the Afrin region west of Manbij, Ankara escalated its threats against Manbij, raising the spectre of a clash between it and its NATO ally, the United States.

Diplomatic efforts between the United States and Turkey led to a “roadmap” earlier this month between both sides on the future of Manbij.

Earlier this month, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem criticised the roadmap, saying “neither the United States nor Turkey has the right to negotiate over a Syrian city”.

On Tuesday, Syria’s foreign ministry demanded the international community condemn the United States and Turkey and pledged once more to retake the entirety of the country.

Much of Syria’s north is controlled by the YPG or the alliance that it heads, and the US-led coalition fighting jihadists operates several bases there.

US support for the YPG has strained relations with Turkey, which fears the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region on its southern border.