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TURKEY STARTS COORDINATED PATROLS IN SYRIAN CITY WITH RUSSIA

Turkey and Russia have conducted their first coordinated patrols in the northern Syrian region of Tal Rifaat held by a Kurdish militia opposed by Ankara, the Turkish defense ministry said Tuesday.

Ankara and Moscow have been working closely to secure an end to the Syrian conflict despite Russia's support to Damascus and Turkey backing Syrian opposition fighters.

"To secure the cease-fire in Tal Rifaat region, to ensure stability and to prevent attacks on our elements, Turkish and Russian armed forces conducted their first separate coordinated patrols," the defense ministry statement said.

Turkey said on March 12 that officials were holding talks with Russia on joint patrols.

Tal Rifaat is east of Afrin, captured by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels from a Kurdish militia after a military operation supported by Turkish forces early 2018.

Turkey previously threatened to launch a cross-border offensive to capture Tal Rifaat last year after taking Afrin from the U.S.-backed People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

A Turkish soldier was killed in Afrin after coming under fire from the YPG in December, the defense ministry said at the time.

Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

Turkey vowed in December to begin an offensive in the east of the Euphrates River but has remained quiet after the U.S. ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.

Earlier this month, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkish and Russian patrols would begin in Syria's northwestern militant-controlled Idlib region as part of an agreement between Moscow and Ankara signed last year.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will go to Russia on April 8, the Turkish presidency said on Saturday, for meetings likely to focus on Syria.

Source: NATIONAL NEWS AGENCY