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US, Russia 'deconfliction' in Syria's al-Hasakeh

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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A US military convoy advances through the western countryside of the north-eastern Syrian town of al-Malikiyah (Derik), as it patrols Kurdish towns near the border with Turkey, on June 7th. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

US and Russian military patrols operating in north-eastern Syria have come face-to-face in al-Hasakeh province in recent days, a local activist told Diyaruna.

There were two recent encounters in the town of al-Malikiyah when Russian forces rolled into an area under US influence, in a move Russian media outlets described as part of an effort to expand the regime ally's presence in the area.

This includes Russian plans to establish a base in Qasir al-Dib near al-Malikiyah, which Russia reportedly has been negotiating with the Syrian regime.

Some local media outlets posted photos and video of US and Russian forces seen together and claimed they had been conducting joint patrols in the area, Syrian activist Ammar Saleh told Diyaruna.

But this is not the case, he said.

"If there had been joint patrols in this area, it would have been made public by the official channels of the international coalition or the Russian forces," he said.

International coalition spokesman Col. Myles Caggins recently made it clear that there have been no joint patrols between US and Russian forces.

The two sides do not co-ordinate their missions in north-eastern Syria, he said, describing the US encounters with Russian forces as "de-confliction".

US forces have turned back Russian forces on several occasions as they attempted to move through areas outside their control, and recently provided an escort to usher Russian forces out of the region.

According to military sources in the area, this took place within the framework of a military protocol aimed at providing security for the Russian forces, since the area is under the influence of the international coalition, Saleh said.

"It serves as a message to affirm the area is outside Russian influence," he said.

Protecting oil infrastructure

US forces stationed in the region are there as part of the international coalition against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). They seek to protect oil infrastructure in the region and prevent it from falling into the group's hands.

According to Saleh, the international coalition's presence in the region also will keep others from exploiting the region's oil wealth.

Saleh said the Russian presence is wholly unwelcome in this part of Syria.

Ibn al-Waleed Studies and Field Research Centre director Mazen Zaki told Diyaruna he has been monitoring social media sites to gauge the opinions and viewpoints of residents of north-eastern Syria.

His research shows Russian forces are not trusted, he said, as residents believe they have no other aim than to achieve economic gains.

New US legislation set to come into force next week aims to sanction anyone who assists the Syrian regime or contributes to the country's reconstruction.

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 imposes financial restrictions on the Syrian regime to compel it to halt "attacks on the Syrian people", and is expected to penalise Russian and other companies that work with the regime.

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