Moscow: Turkey and Russia agreed a ceasefire deal on Thursday in Syria’s Idlib region, their two leaders said after lengthy talks in Moscow to contain a conflict which has displaced nearly a million people in three months.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, standing next to his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, said he hoped their agreement would lead to a halt of military action in Syria’s last rebel stronghold in the far northwest of the country.
“I express hope that these agreements will serve as a good basis for a cessation of military activity in the Idlib de-escalation zone [and] stop the suffering of the peaceful population and the growing humanitarian crisis,” Putin said.
Erdogan told reporters the truce would come into effect at midnight on Thursday. “We will work together to supply aid for the Syrians in need,” he said, adding that Turkey retained the right “to respond to all [Syrian] regime attacks in the field.”
Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, with Moscow supporting President Bashar Al Assad and Turkey backing some rebel groups. They have in recent years reached several ceasefire deals in Idlib which have collapsed.
The Kremlin said the two leaders had spoken for three hours on their own before being joined by their officials.
The two leaders also agreed to establish a secure corridor near the M4 highway, which runs east to west through Idlib, and hold joint patrols along the road from March 15.
In a joint statement read out by the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers, the two sides said the corridor would stretch 6km to the north and 6km to the south of the M4 — effectively advancing Russia’s presence further north into Idlib.
They said their defence ministers would agree on the parameters of the corridor within seven days.
The fighting, which has raised the prospect of a direct clash between Russia and Turkey, has killed 60 Turkish troops in the region since last month, including the death of a Turkish soldier reported by a regional governor on Thursday.
Putin expressed his regret to Erdogan about the recent killing of 34 Turkish troops in an air strike, saying the Syrian military had not known of their location.
Ahead of the talks, at least 16 civilians were killed when Russian air strikes hit a gathering of displaced people near the town of Maarat Misrin in Idlib, according to civil defence workers helping clear the rubble and search for survivors.