Turkey, Russia agree details of Idlib ceasefire – defence minister

Turkey and Russia have agreed on the details of a ceasefire deal the countries’ leaders reached during talks on the northwest Syrian province of Idlib on March 5, and joint patrols will begin in the province on Sunday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday.

Akar said talks with the Russian military delegation that arrived in Turkey on Tuesday had come to a positive conclusion after both sides expressed their views and agreed on and signed a final text for the agreement.

Joint patrols by Turkish and Russian troops along the M4 east-west highway in Idlib will begin on March 15, he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan headed to Moscow to discuss a ceasefire with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 5, a week after an attack by the Russian-backed government of Syrian President Bashar Assad killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers in the country’s last rebel-held province.

That incident came after months of escalating violence in the province pushed nearly 1 million civilians to Turkey’s border to seek safety from the Syrian government’s advancing forces and Russian and Syrian air strikes.

The advance by Assad’s forces encircled several of 12 Turkish observation posts that were built to mark the boundaries of a de-escalation zone set by a previous agreement between Turkey and Russia reached in September 2018.

But a Turkish security official told Reuters that Turkey would continue to operate the observation posts even though they had been surrounded, and that no heavy arms or equipment would be removed from the posts.

Russian news agency Sputnik reported on Thursday that Erdoğan and Putin had discussed the ceasefire in a phone call and expressed satisfaction at the effect it had had in cooling tensions in the province.

The parties also agreed to maintain regular dialogue between the two countries at different levels, including personal communication, Sputnik said, citing a Kremlin statement.

Akar said on Friday that initial signs showed far fewer people had been displaced in the province since the deal was reached.