Turkey declares ceasefire in Syria's rebel-held Idlib

Turkey's Ministry of Defence has announced on Friday a ceasefire in Syria's last rebel-held enclave of Idlib by midnight on Jan. 12.

"Based on the agreement between Turkey and the Russian Federation, the ceasefire will be effective as of 00:01 hours, 12 January 2020 in the Idlib De-escalation Zone," the defence ministry said on Twitter.

Almost 4 million people are packed into Idlib, many having fled fighting elsewhere in the country. Thousands of government opponents took refuge in Idlib following defeats elsewhere in the country.

Turkey, which already hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, made a deal with Russia in September 2018 in an attempt to prevent another wave of refugees fleeing Idlib. 

"Turkey and the Russian Federation have agreed on the implementation of the ceasefire in order to stop air/land attacks, prevent new refugee waves and contribute to ensuring that life returns to normal within the Idlib De-escalation Zone," the ministry's statement said.

The Turkish-Russian deal aimed at establishing a de-escalation zone in Idlib to keep the Syrian government from launching an assault and in return Turkey promised to clear the area of jihadist rebels. But Turkey has failed to achieve that goal and Tahrir al-Sham, a group linked to al-Qaeda, has instead expanded its territory.

The Syrian government, backed by Russian aircraft, has intensified its attacks in Idlib since April. And, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have already fled from Idlib to Turkey's border and Turkish-controlled areas in northern Syria after recent attacks, according to Turkish authorities.