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article imageRussia and Turkey agree to a ceasefire in Idlib province Syria

By Ken Hanly     Mar 5, 2020 in Politics
Russia and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib that will begin at midnight local time. The ceasefire may be just in time to avoid escalation of conflict in the province into a major conflict.
The agreement
As well as the ceasefire,
Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan agreed to establish a security corridot and joint patrols. The agreement comes after last month 36 soldiers were killed in a Syrian offensive to regain control of the province with the help of Russian air cover. Turkey reacted by sending in more troops and equipment and launching a counter-offensive. There were fears of an escalating military conflict involving direct clashes between Turkey and Russia. The agreement appears to have avoided that for the present at least. The agreement was arrived at after about six hours of talks in Moscow.
The ceasefire will be along the entire line of contact between the two opposing forces. There will be a security corridor that will stretch 6 kilometers north and 6 km south of the key M4 motorway connecting Syrian-held Aleppo with the Latakia region it also holds to the south. The joint patrols will start March 15.
Earlier agreement had been violated
Back in September of 2018 Putin and Erdogan had agreed that Idlib should be turned into a de-escalation zone. The area was to become a buffer zone between the two sides with clear lines of control set out. However, fighting has continued. However, fighting continued in the area and terms of the agreement were often violated. Idlib province is mostly controlled by jihadist rebels with connections to Al Qaeda but Turkey has strongly supported them. Russia has claimed that Turkish listening posts and fortified rebel positions have virtually merged. This may explain how Turkish forces suffered casualties.
Erdogan warns of response to any attack by Syria
Erdogan says that Turkey reserved the right to retaliate with all its strength against any attack by Syrian forces. However, it is not clear that Assad has given up the idea of recovering all of Idlib which is part of Syria. Russia may put pressure on Assad not to do so even though his offensive so far has been quite successful. For now Assad may be satisfied that he can retain what he has captured up to now. Erdogan had demanded Syria withdraw to the border of the province by the end of February and provided extensive support for a rebel counter-offensive. The deal with Russia puts an end to any further retaliation against Assad.
Putin said that
he hoped the deal would serve as a good foundation for ending fighting in the Idblib de-escalation zone and end the suffering of the civilian population many of whom have fled the front lines creating a humanitarian crisis.
Questions about the agreement
Given past experience and the aims of the two conflicting parties it is questionable whether the truce will hold very long. Assad is bound and determined that he retake all of Syria including Idlib and drive out the jihadist rebels whose last refuge is the province. Turkey for its part is determined to ensure that the rebels it supports remain in Idlib along with Turkish troops to defend them. He has demanded that Assad withdraw and tried to advance with a counter-offensive. This resulted in Turkish casualties and the possibility of direct conflict with Russia. The ceasefire seems far from any permanent solution given the aims of the conflicting parties.
More about Syrian civil war, idlib, Turkey in Syria
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