ANKARA • One Turkish soldier was killed and another was wounded yesterday after an attack by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in north-east Syria's Tel Abyad, the defence ministry said, despite a deal to pause military operations as militants withdraw from the area.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed last Thursday in talks with United States Vice-President Mike Pence to a five-day pause in the offensive to allow time for Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a "safe zone" Turkey aims to form in north-east Syria near its border.
Last Saturday, the truce was holding along the border with just a few Turkish military vehicles crossing, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
But yesterday's attack has underlined how fragile the agreement is.
Ankara regards the YPG, the main component of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, as a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in south-east Turkey.
The YPG has been a close US ally in the fight against the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
In a statement, the defence ministry said an attack by the YPG with anti-tank and light weapons had struck Turkish soldiers carrying out a reconnaissance and surveillance mission in Tel Abyad yesterday.
Mr Erdogan warned on Saturday that the offensive would continue and Turkey would "crush the heads of terrorists" if the deal was not fully implemented. Ankara has also insisted that it is the duty of Washington to ensure the withdrawal of the YPG.
Turkey's defence ministry said late on Saturday that it was closely monitoring the withdrawal of the YPG and that it was in close contact with US officials over the issue and to provide logistical information.
Ankara aims to establish a "safe zone" some 32km into Syria.
Mr Erdogan said last Friday that the zone would run for some 440km along the border, though the US special envoy for Syria said the accord covered a smaller area where Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies were fighting.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia will discuss the removal of the YPG militia from the northern Syrian towns of Manbij and Kobani during talks in Sochi this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said yesterday.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has already deployed his forces in territory formerly protected by Washington, invited by the Kurds.
Mr Erdogan, who has backed rebels fighting to oust Mr Assad, has said Turkey has no problem with Syrian government forces deploying near the border.
Speaking in an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7 yesterday, Mr Cavusoglu said Mr Erdogan and Russia's President Vladimir Putin will be holding urgent talks.
"We will discuss the removal of the YPG terrorists from our borders, namely Manbij and Kobani, with the Russians," he said.
"We believe we can reach an agreement with them to work together in the future, just like we have before."
The SDF and Damascus struck a deal this month to counter the Turkish offensive in north-eastern Syria, prompting Syrian army forces to deploy in Manbij and Kobani, towns of strategic importance given their location on the Syrian border with Turkey.
While Mr Erdogan and Mr Putin have forged close ties over defence and energy cooperation, Moscow has also said the Turkish offensive into Syria was "unacceptable" and should be limited.
Mr Erdogan on Saturday said he would also discuss Syrian army deployment in northern Syria with Mr Putin, saying the two needed to find a solution to the matter.