ALBERT AJI and SUZAN FRASER,Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Intense clashes broke out Saturday between Syrian government troops and Turkish-led forces in northeast Syria, killing at least four Syrian soldiers, the country’s state media and an opposition war monitor reported.
Turkey invaded northeast Syria last month to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters near the border. The Kurdish groups called in Syrian government forces to halt Turkey’s advance. Syrian government forces have since clashed with Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters, despite a shaky truce brokered by Russia.
A cameraman for state-run Syrian TV was among those wounded in Saturday’s clashes, according to both SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory reported the deaths of four Syrian soldiers, and said a general and a paramedic were wounded. The Kurdish news agency Hawar said five government troops were killed and 26 wounded.
SANA said the clashes involved heavy machine gun fire and occurred in the village of Um Shaifa near the town of Ras al-Ayn, which was captured by Turkish-led forces last month. It later reported that government forces took the village from Turkey-backed opposition fighters.
The Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian group active in northeast Syria, said four Syrian army soldiers were killed and seven were wounded, including a general. It said they were killed and wounded north of the town of Tal Tamr, adding that the rangers and the Kurdish Red Crescent had evacuated some of the Syrian troops.
The Observatory said the attacks involved Turkish drones.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry made no mention of fighting with Syrian government troops in a statement Saturday. The ministry did say it recorded eight cease-fire violations or attacks carried out by Syrian Kurdish fighters in the last 24 hours, despite separate truce agreements that Turkey has reached with Russia and the United States. The ministry said on its Twitter account that the Syrian Kurdish fighters attacked with mortars, rockets and sniper fire, without saying where the attacks had occurred.
Last week, Turkish forces captured 18 Syrian government soldiers in the area and set them free hours later following mediation by Russia.
On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized a U.S. decision to send American troops to protect oil fields in eastern Syria, saying only Syria has rights over the country’s reserves.
The U.S. has said the move is aimed at preventing the oil fields from falling into the hands of Islamic State militants. Turkey is concerned that U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters will benefit from the oil revenues. Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants fighting inside.
“To come from tens of thousands of miles away and to say we will put the country’s wealth, oil reserves to use is against international law. And we oppose it. ” Cavusoglu said at the end of a regional economic cooperation meeting. “These (reserves) belong to the Syrian people and should be used in a way that benefits the people of Syria.”
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.