Turkish, Russian defence ministers pledge to make Idlib ceasefire permanent

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu affirmed their shared aim to make the ceasefire in northwest Syria’s Idlib region permanent, said state-run Anadolu news agency on Tuesday. 

In a phone call on Tuesday the ministers pledged to create the conditions for the return of over 1 million displaced people - 81 percent of whom are women and children - who fled fighting in the last-rebel held province of Syria, said Anadolu citing the Turkish Defence Ministry.

During the phone call, the ministers agreed to fulfil their responsibilities arising from the ceasefire agreed between Turkey and Russia on March 5 and to continue efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region, said Anadolu. 

Turkish and Russian forces will patrol on either side of corridor being set up around a Syrian highway, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday.

The Turkish forces will patrol to the north, and Russian forces to the south of a corridor stretching around 6 km (4 miles) north and south of the east-west M4 highway. The exact details of the corridor are still to be determined. A Russian military delegation arrived in Ankara on Tuesday for talks on details of the ceasefire, Reuters said on Tuesday.

An intensifying offensive by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad in early 2020 to retake Idlib has created the biggest humanitarian crisis yet of the nine-year war, with around 1 million people fleeing the fighting massed in desperate, makeshift conditions close to the border with Turkey. 

Turkey responded with its own counter-offensive to try to push the Syrian government forces back after more than 30 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in late February.

The ceasefire cements gains by Russian-backed forces over Turkish-backed rebels but halted the advances of Assad’s forces and eased Ankara’s fear of an influx of more Syrian migrants said Reuters on Tuesday.