At least six Syrian regime fighters were killed as heavy clashes broke out Tuesday between the army and Turkish forces for the first time since Ankara attacked northeastern Syria three weeks ago, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said artillery and machine-gun fire was exchanged near Assadiya, south of the border town of Ras al-Ain.
“Heavy fighting erupted for the first time between the Syrian and Turkish armies,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.
The Turkish military and its Syrian proxies attacked Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on October 9 with the aim of creating a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) deep buffer zone.
“Turkish artillery fire killed five regime forces in battles on the edge of the village of Assadiya,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Observatory, told AFP.
He added that the pro-Ankara fighters being used by Turkey as the main ground force for the invasion executed a government soldier they had captured.
Kurdish forces earlier this month agreed to withdraw from a 120-kilometer (75 mile) long, Arab-majority segment of the 440-kilometer (275-mile) border zone, although clashes have been reported since.
Turkey subsequently reached a deal with the Syrian government’s main backer Russia for Kurdish forces to pull back from the entire border area.
Left in the lurch by a US troop withdrawal from the border area, Kurdish forces turned to the government for protection.
Damascus forces rushed north and are now expected to deploy along much of the border zone but a 10-kilometer-deep strip was to be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops, starting from Tuesday.