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SDF starts withdrawal from Syria-Turkey border area following deal

US-Turkish agreement in early August called for creation of 'safe zone' in an effort to stave off a Turkish military offensive
Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attend the funeral of a fellow fighter in Qamishli, Syria
Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attend the funeral of an Arab fighter in SDF who was killed the previous week in the eastern Deir Ezzor province, in northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli (AFP)

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia has begun withdrawing from Syria's border with Turkey, following the announcement of a deal for a buffer zone there.

A spokesperson for the group, which comprises Kurds and Arabs but is largley dominated by the pro-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), said it had started the pull back from the northern Syria border, which is set to become a "safe zone" after an agreement between the US and Turkey earlier this month.

Turkey regards the YPG as a "terrorist" organisation linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting with the Turkish state since 1984.

“As part of the triple agreement with Turkey and the US on border security, we started to take practical steps to implement the first phase," said Zedan al-Asi, a spokesperson for the political administration established by the YPG in areas it controls, according to the pro-YPG Firat News Agency.

"The border barrages have been removed in Serekaniye, YPG units and heavy weapons have been pulled back to their new positions and checkpoints along the border were turned over to local forces.”

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He added that similar steps had been taken in the town of Tal Abyad on Monday.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish troops would soon enter northeast Syria.

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"Our armed drones, drones and helicopters are in the region," he told supporters in eastern Turkey. "We expect our ground troops to enter the region very soon."

On Saturday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said a US-Turkey operations centre aimed at creating the buffer area was at "full capacity".

He said the first joint helicopter flight took place on Saturday afternoon. 

SDF chief Mazlum Abdi on Saturday said his forces would support the implementation of the US-Turkey deal.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack SDF-held areas in northeast Syria.

The "safe zone" was initially suggested by Washington to dissuade Ankara from carrying out another cross-border attack, after previous offensives in 2016 and 2018.

The YPG has been a key partner to Washington in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

But as the fight against IS winds down in the region, the prospect of a US military withdrawal has stoked Kurdish fears of another Turkish attack.

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