Kurdish fighters
Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Hukumya, Syria, stand in formation during a funeral for comrades in this file picture. The SDF has begun withdrawing from the frontlines. Image Credit: The New York Times

Ankara- The Kurdish YPG militia is expected to initially withdraw from a 120km strip of the border with Turkey in northeast Syria as part of an agreement brokered by Washington, a Turkish security source said on Tuesday.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin would discuss the YPG withdrawal from the rest of the border at a meeting in Russia later on Tuesday.

Kurdish forces are continuing to withdraw in northeast Syria but Turkey will resume its military assault there once a US-brokered ceasefire expires on Tuesday if promises given by Washington are not kept, Erdogan said.

A five-day pause in Turkey’s cross-border military offensive to allow the withdrawal of Kurdish YPG fighters from the border area expires at 10pm on Tuesday.

Turkey says Kurdish YPG militia forces must leave a “safe zone” it wants to establish along its border with northeast Syria. Ankara views the YPG as terrorists with links to Kurdish insurgents operating in southeast Turkey.

“The withdrawal is continuing,” Erdogan told reporters at Ankara airport before flying to Russia.

“According to the information I have received from my defence minister we are talking about 700-800 already withdrawn and the rest, around 1,200-1,300, are continuing to withdraw. It has been said that they will withdraw,” Erdogan said.

“All will have to get out, the process will not end before they are out.” Turkey began its cross-border operation nearly two weeks ago following US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria.

Trump said on Monday it appeared that the five-day pause was holding despite skirmishes, and that it could possibly go beyond Tuesday’s expiry, but Erdogan said the fighting may resume.

“If the promises given to us by America are not kept, we will continue our operation from where it left off, this time with a much bigger determination,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bashar Al Assad has slammed Erdogan as a “thief” as he made his first visit to areas in Idlib province recently retaken by Syrian government forces from Turkey-backed rebels.

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Handout image shows Bashar Al Assad allegedly in Idlib. He called President Erdogan a 'thief'.

Syrian regime media showed images of Al Assad on Tuesday standing among Syrian soldiers in what the report said was strategic southern Idlib territory.

The media quoted Al Assad as calling Erdogan a “thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory” - apparently referring to Turkey’s invasion this month into northeastern Syria to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has also carried out other incursions into Syria and controls territory east of Idlib. It also has observation points inside Idlib, negotiated with Russia, to monitor a cease-fire there between the government and opposition fighters.