Original Article by Karwan Faidhi Dri, Rudaw, 28 December 2020

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Fresh clashes between Kurdish forces and Turkey-backed militants in Ain Issa in Syria’s Raqqa province resulted in the death of several fighters from both sides on Monday, according to a war monitor. 

This follows Russia’s deployment of more forces to the area to “stabilize” the situation. 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that four fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed and seven others injured in Monday clashes with Turkey-backed militants in Ain Issa’s Jahbal, Al-Mushirfa, Sayda and Ma’alaq villages.Six Turkey-backed militants were also killed, added the UK-based war monitor.  The SDF confirmed in a Tuesday statement that five of their fighters were killed in the clashes. 
Ain Issa is located to the east of Euphrates River, at a junction that connects many cities in northeast Syria, and has been a focal point of recent clashes. Russia’s defense ministry said late Sunday that it has deployed more military police to the area amid an uptick in violence. 
“Additional units of the Russian military police have arrived in the Ain Issa area today to step up efforts to stabilize the situation,” said the ministry, urging the parties conducting the shelling to stop the escalation, according to TASS news agency.  
The deployment comes two days before a scheduled meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Both are expected to discuss several issues, with Syria being at the top of the agenda. A senior Turkish defense source told Reuters that Tuesday’s meeting is a push by Ankara for the withdrawal of People’s Protection Units (YPG) – the backbone of the SDF – from Ain Issa.
“The YPG must definitely leave Ain Issa and there is a readiness to take every kind of step to this end,” the unnamed source said. 
Amina Omar, co-chair of Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) – the political arm of the SDF – told Rudaw earlier this month that Russia “pressures the SDF to push it to hand over Ain Issa to Damascus.”  Russians are present in the town but have been slammed by Kurdish officials and locals for their “indifference” against regular attacks from Turkish proxies, which has displaced waves of civilians throughout the year. Approximately 10,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Ain Issa and the surrounding area since October, the Rojava Information Center said on Monday.
Riad al-Khalaf, a top SDF commander in Ain Issa, reiterated to SDF-affiliated Hawar News Agency (ANHA) on Monday that they have not made any deal with Russians to hand over the town to the regime, calling such claims “baseless.”  However, Moscow has said that they previously agreed with Turkey to have  joint Russian-Syrian observation posts in the town. 

Turkey and its proxies control stretches of northern Syria, including parts of Aleppo and Idlib provinces, and a so-called “safe zone” between Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain) and Gire Spi (Tel Abyad) in northeast Syria – taken by Ankara’s proxies after Operation Peace Spring, which displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians last October.