Pro-Syrian government forces walk in the northern province of Aleppo. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Russia stepped in to stop fighting between Syrian-backed government forces and Turkish-backed opposition forces in northern Syria as both sides converge on the ISIS-held city of al-Bab, according to multiple sources.
"Rebels shot to warn them not to get any closer, but the tank responded and a clash erupted," a rebel source told Reuters on Friday speaking about Thursday’s clash. "Later on Russia intervened to calm down the situation. This whole incident felt like a test.”
The Observatory reported the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) clashed with regime forces southwest of al-Bab, “amid mutual bombardment from both sides,” the conflict monitor wrote.
“The Russians intervened to control the situation,” Reuters reported an official fighting in support of the government as saying.
The incident is the first reported between the Syrian- and Turkish-backed factions.
Russia and Turkey have backed opposing sides in the nearly six-year-long Syrian civil war, while sharing a common foe in ISIS. Turkey has primarily backed the FSA, while Syria has been supported by the Iranian-backed militias including Lebanese Hezbollah and the Russian military.
Over the last month, Ankara and Moscow began verbally cooperating, attempting to broker a truce between government loyalists and rebels in Astana; however, the ceasefires haven’t held and have lacked a working enforcement mechanism.
After a Russian warplane struck and killed three Turkish military members near al-Bab on Thursday, the Russian Defence Ministry told TASS news that the countries "agreed on closer coordination of joint efforts as well as on exchange of information on the situation on the ground.”