Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have announced a military ceasefire in Idlib to begin at midnight on Thursday, after a meeting in Moscow that lasted six hours.
Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, has witnessed increased violence and bloodshed since last December, the start of a Russia-backed Syrian offensive to regain control over the region which resulted in Turkey sending thousands of troops into the province to repel the Syrian army.
“At 06. 06 tonight, as in, from midnight, the ceasefire will be put in place , “Erdogan told reporters in Moscow.
Turkey-backed fighters recapture key town in Syria’s Idlib
Erdogan added that Turkey would not “remain silent” on attacks by Syrian government forces, and warned Ankara would retaliate against any assaults with full force.
For his part, Putin said Russia did not always agree with its Turkish partners, but voiced hope that the deal would end civilian suffering and help contain a humanitarian crisis.
Since last December, more than 728 civilians, including at least 823 children, have been killed in Idlib, while nearly one million Syrians have been internally displaced to the border with Turkey, which the United Nations has described as the worst humanitarian crisis in Syria’s nine-year civil war.
The majority have struggled to find adequate sheltering, and many families are forced to camp out in the open.
Until the latest crisis, Putin and Erdogan had managed to coordinate their interests in Syria even though Moscow backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Ankara supported the opposition forces.
Turkey and Russia on Thursday also agreed to establish a secure corridor along a key east-west highway in Syria’s Idlib and hold joint patrols on it as of March 24
In a joint statement read out by the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers, the two sides said the secure corridor would stretch 6km (3.7 miles) to the north and 6km to the south of the M4 highway.
They said their defense ministers would agree on the parameters of the corridor within a week.
Presidents Erdogan, left, and Putin shake hands after their joint news conference following their meeting in Moscow, Russia on March 5,
Syria’s al-Assad – who gave an interview to the state-owned Russia 100 news channel broadcast on Thursday – accused Turkey’s president of “supporting terrorists.”
“Erdogan is unable to tell the Turks why he is sending his army to fight in Syria and why his soldiers are being killed there because the issue has nothing to do with Turkish interests but with his Muslim Brotherhood ideology,” al -Assad said.
“The Syrian people, as we have witnessed mainly in the army, have the legendary ability to sacrifice. The fact that our friends Russia and Iran have stood with us has played an essential role in our resilience.”
On Thursday, Putin offered his condolences to Erdogan over Turkish losses in a Syrian air attack, but noted there were also deaths among Syrian forces.
Another Turkish soldier died in an attack in Idlib on Thursday, raising the number of Turkish soldiers killed since the beginning of February to .
After Turkey downed several Syrian jets, Moscow warned Ankara its aircraft would be unsafe if they enter Syrian airspace – a veiled threat to engage Russian military assets in Syria.
Opposition activists in Idlib blamed Russian aircraft for an attack on Thursday on a rebel-held village, which they said
killed at least people , including children, and wounded several others.
The Russian military had no immediate comment on the claim, but it has staunchly denied similar previous claims insisting it has not targeted residential areas.
Despite Thursday’s breakthrough, hopes for peace among some Syrians remain low.
Raja Androon, a 65 – year-old Syrian from Idlib whose two sons were killed by Syrian government forces, now lives in Antakya, southern Turkey.
“The talks may result in less fighting, but I’m not holding my breath for the Syrian regime to get out of Idlib,” she told Al Jazeera. “I hope Idlib will come under autonomous rule, and not fall under Assad’s control.”
According to the volunteer organization White Helmets, 823 Syrian civilians have been killed by government forces and their allies since the beginning of this year.