UN chief hopes for 'lasting cessation of hostilities' in Syria after Russia-Turkey deal

Syria ceasefire to start within hours after Russia and Turkey strike deal

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) Antonio Guterres has said he hoped that the Moscow-Ankara agreement to deescalate tensions in Syria’s Idlib will result in a lasting ceasefire in the province.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on Thursday. Adding that the UN Chief also called for a return to the U.N.-facilitated political process, aimed at ending the nine-year conflict.
"The Secretary-General hopes that this agreement will lead to an immediate and lasting cessation of hostilities that ensures the protection of civilians in northwest Syria, who have already endured enormous suffering", Dujarric said.

Following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trip to Moscow where he meet with the President of Russia Federation Vladimir Putin, Russia and Turkey have agreed a ceasefire in Idlib in northwestern Syria, coming into force at midnight. Sky news reported on Thursday.

The ceasefire will come into effect at the midnight of Thursday 5th and 6th March this is achieved after the two leaders, Putin and Erdogan, held more than six hours of talks in Moscow aimed at ending hostilities in the country's last rebel stronghold.

The agreement document stipulated that the ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province will start at 00:01 on 6 March. Russia and Turkey will start joint patrols on the M4 highway, it reads. The agreement also stipulates that a 12-km security corridor for Syria’s Idlib province will be established to the north and to the south of the highway.

President Putin has expressed hope that the deal could end civilian suffering and help contain a humanitarian crisis, nine years after the start of Syria's civil war. "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."

The agreement involves a truce along the existing battle lines and envisages the establishment of a seven-mile-wide security corridor along the M4 road.

It will be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops and will begin on 15 March.

Turkish Erdogan said: "We will work together to supply aid for the Syrians in need." Adding that Turkey retained the right "to respond to all [Syrian] regime attacks in the field."

Moscow and Ankara are supporting opposing sides in the conflict, with Putin backing Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Erdogan supporting rebel groups.

There have been several ceasefire deals in Idlib in recent years which have collapsed.

Russian airstrikes have supported an offensive by Assad forces in Idlib that has caused what the UN says may be the worst humanitarian crisis of the conflict. Moscow has, however, repeatedly played down any talk of a refugee crisis and accused Turkey of violating international law by sending troops to Idlib.

In recent weeks, President Erdogan has moblised  troops and reinforcement in terms equipment into the Idlib area to repel the Syrian government's advance and prevent a wave of refugees crossing its southern border.

The fighting, which has raised fears of a direct confrontation between Russia and Turkey, has left 60 Turkish troops dead in the region since last month.

Russian ministry of defense alleged that some of the Turkish soldiers killed were fighting alonside with the jihadists rebles.

Mr Putin expressed his regret to Mr Erdogan about the killing of 34 Turkish troops in a recent airstrike, saying the Syrian military was not aware of their location.

Ahead of the talks, at least 16 civilians were killed when Russian airstrikes hit a group of displaced people near the town of Maarat Misrin in Idlib, according to civil defence workers who were helping to clear the rubble and search for survivors.

However, Russia denies targeting civilians.

But it should be noted that the terrorists are in many occasions using the  civilians as shade to engage the Syrian Arab Army troops.

Two witnesses reported seeing more Turkish forces deploying into Idlib, while Russia's RIA news agency reported that rebels had resumed shelling the strategic town of Sarageb in Idlib, where Russian military police are located.

Turkey's defence ministry said it had destroyed four tanks, five rocket launchers and a dozen military vehicles in artillery and airstrikes in the last 24 hours.

Ankara hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot take any more.

In a bid to get more funding and support from Europe over Idlib, Turkey said last week it would no longer abide by a 2016 deal in which it stopped migrants crossing into the EU in return for billions of euros in aid.

Certainly, the fighting in Idlib is the most severe test of Russia-Turkey ties since Turkey’s downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November 2015. Russia responded then with sweeping economic sanctions, cutting the flow of its tourists to Turkey and banning most Turkish exports — a punishment that eventually forced Turkey to back off.

Ankara may not be able to afford a replay of that costly crisis, much less a military conflict with a nuclear power, but it has a strong bargaining position. 

Moscow needs Ankara as a partner in a Syrian settlement, and Russia’s supply routes for its forces in Syria lie through the Turkish Straits.

The Thursday talks in Moscow marked the 10th meeting in just over a year between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, who call each other “dear friend”. They both agreed in October last year to deploy their forces across Syria’s northeastern border to fill the void left by President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces. Before that, they had negotiated deals that saw opposition fighters from various areas in Syria move into Idlib, and in 2018 carved out a de-escalation zone in Idlib.

Moscow and Ankara blamed one another for the collapse of the Idlib deal, with Moscow holding Ankara responsible for letting al-Qaida-linked militants launch attacks from the area and Turkey accusing Moscow of failing to rein in Assad.

The head of the Russian upper house’s foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev hailed the deal as a compromise that respected security interests of each country. “The only alternative to the talks would be trying to sort out the differences on the battlefield, and neither side needs that,” he said on Facebook.

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