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Erdogan, Putin to hold talks as truce in northeast Syria about to expire

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to hold a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday, hours before a ceasefire between Turkish and Kurdish forces in northern Syria is about to expire.

The talks between the two leaders will focus on “normalising the situation” in northeast Syria, according to the Kremlin.

There has been relative calm in northeast Syria since Turkey agreed on Thursday to a 120-hour pause in hostilities to allow Kurdish-led fighters to withdraw from the border area.

The United States-brokered truce is set to expire at 19:00 GMT on Tuesday.

Before departing for talks with Putin, Erdogan told reporters that Ankara would resume the military offensive in Syria unless the Kurdish fighters withdrew.

“If the promises given to our country by the United States are not kept, we will continue our operation from where we left off with greater determination,” he said.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were Washington’s main ground ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).

Ankara considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which form the backbone of the SDF, a “terrorist” group linked to the banned Kuridstan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey.

It launched its offensive, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, in northeast Syria on October 9 to create a “safe-zone” cleared of the armed group.

Ankara also wants to resettle some of the 3.6 million refugees it currently hosts inside the “safe zone”.

Turkey’s military said in a statement on Monday it has recorded at least 125 vehicles, carrying YPG fighters, leaving the “safe zone”.

Redur Khalil, a senior official in the YPG-led SDF, told The Associated Press news agency on Monday that his forces were preparing to withdraw from a 120 kilometres stretch between the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.

Following the YPG’s withdrawal, Turkey will set up the first phase of the “safe zone” between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, and extend it to 444 kilometres in the second phase.

Erdogan’s meeting with Putin will be key to Ankara’s plans to establish the “safe zone”.