Turkish and Russian patrols are set to begin in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region as part of a deal agreed last year, a significant sign of cooperation in the last stronghold held by rebels in the war-torn country.
Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told state-owned Anadolu news agency that the operation that begins on Friday follows an agreement made in September last year between Ankara, which backs the rebels, and Moscow, an ally of Damascus.
According to the deal, Russia’s forces will patrol on the edge of rebel-held Idlib province while Turkish army will operate in the demilitarised zone.
“There were restrictions on the use of Idlib and Afrin regions’ airspace but these have been lifted from today,” Akar said, adding that the patrols mark “an important step for the continuation of ceasefire and maintaining stability [in Idlib]”.
He separately warned the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad against violating the ceasefire in Idlib.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Akar tried to draw a picture of what could happen if the ceasefire in Idlib is broken.
“It is an overcrowded area. At least 3.5 million civilians are said to be living in Idlib. Akar said if the situation escalates in Idlib, these people are going to flood not only Turkey’s borders but also Europe,” she said.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham
Idlib is the last major region held by rebels in Syria and is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which took administrative control of the whole of the Idlib region in January.
Despite being on opposing sides of the conflict, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have been working closely in a bid to end the war.
Last year, Russia and Turkey reached a deal to establish a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib, a move that prevented a major government offensive there.