Russia and Turkey announced a ceasefire in northern Syria Thursday, with an agreement to end weeks of heavy fighting that sparked a humanitarian crisis and raised fears of their armies clashing.
After more than six hours of talks in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on the ceasefire to take effect from midnight today.
The agreement will also create a security corridor along the key M4 highway in northern Syria, where Turkish and Russian forces will launch joint patrols from March 15.
The deal aims to put a stop to intense fighting in Idlib, the northwestern province of Syria where Ankara is battling Moscow-backed government forces. Nearly a million of civilians have fled their homes due to the violence.
Putin told a joint press conference after the talks that the agreement would “serve as a good basis for ending fighting” in Idlib and for “stopping the suffering of the civilian population”. “The object is to avoid the humanitarian crisis getting worse,” Erdogan said, though he added that Turkey reserved the right to “retaliate with all its strength against any attack” by Damascus.
The situation in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria’s nine-year civil war, had become critical as Ankara for the first time launched a direct offensive against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Turkey’s priority now is to stop an influx of refugees among those fleeing an offensive the regime has been pressing on Idlib since December. Ankara has demanded the European Union support its actions in Syria. Despite supporting opposing sides in the war, Russia and Turkey have worked to try to resolve the conflict and avoid direct confrontation.
The two countries agreed a deal in the southern Russian city of Sochi in 2018 that created a “de-escalation” zone in Idlib and allowed for the deployment of 12 Turkish observation posts. In the run-up to yesterday’s talks, the two sides had traded accusations of violating the deal.
Culled from AP