Turkish and Russian officials agreed Friday to start joint patrols in Syria’s Idlib province at the weekend, Turkey’s defense minister said, following a fragile ceasefire in the last rebel stronghold.
“Both sides have signed the prepared text, and it has entered into force. We will see the first application of this with joint patrols on March 15 along the M4 highway,” Hulusi Akar said as quoted by state news agency Anadolu on March 13.
A Russian military delegation has been in Ankara since Tuesday to work out the details of a ceasefire for Idlib agreed on March 5 in Moscow between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The accord stated that a security corridor with joint Turkish-Russian patrols would be established along the key M4 highway of the northwestern province.
“Joint coordination centers will be set up with Russia where the activities will be managed together,” the minister added.
Akar repeated Turkey’s wish for the ceasefire to be “lasting.”
Russia and Turkey agreed in 2018 to create a jointly-patrolled buffer zone around Idlib, but jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which is linked to al-Qaeda, refused to withdraw as part of that agreement. HTS controls much of Idlib province but it is also home to millions of people who fled other parts of Syria during the country’s years-long civil war.
Idlib has suffered heavy bombardment by Syrian forces and Russian warplanes since December, killing hundreds of civilians and forcing nearly a million people to flee towards the Turkish border.
Despite being on opposing sides of the nine-year war, Turkey and Russia have worked closely on Syria, especially regarding developments in Idlib.
Turkey supports certain rebel groups in Idlib and has military observation posts under a previous ceasefire deal agreed with Russia in 2018.