Rare calm in Idlib after ceasefire deal

Updated March 07, 2020

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The agreement raised hopes of an end to one of the bloodiest phases in the nine-year conflict between Russia and Turkey. — AFP/File
The agreement raised hopes of an end to one of the bloodiest phases in the nine-year conflict between Russia and Turkey. — AFP/File

IDLIB: Syria’s war-ravaged northwest woke up to relative calm on Friday, its skies free of warplanes for the first day in months, following a Russian-Turkish ceasefire deal.

The agreement raised hopes of an end to one of the bloodiest phases in the nine-year conflict but residents in Idlib were sceptical this deal would last longer than previous ones.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group and correspondents in Idlib province said the truce that came into force at midnight appeared to be holding.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman reported “a complete absence of regime and Russian warplanes in the Idlib airspace”.

He said an exchange of fire before dawn killed six regime fighters and nine members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur-dominated jihadist group, but in general belligerents seemed to be observing the ceasefire. Syrian state news agency SANA also reported calm in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal after hours of talks in Moscow on Thursday.

The agreement will create a security corridor along the key M4 highway in northern Syria, where Turkish and Russian forces will launch joint patrols later this month.

A Russian-backed government offensive on the last rebel bastion in the country has killed hundreds of civilians since December and displaced close to a million people.

Putin told a joint news conference after the talks that the agreement would “serve as a good basis for ending fighting” in Idlib and for “stopping the suffering of the civilian population”.

Erdogan said 12 Turkish monitoring posts set up around the Idlib region under a previous deal in 2018 would remain there.

“We will be on alert for any violation or attack by the regime,” the Hurriyet newspaper reported him as saying.

European and UN officials welcomed the Moscow deal and said they hoped to see a lasting cessation of hostilities, but residents of the conflict-torn region had low expectations.

Ahmad Qaddour, a 29-year-old who lives in a displacement camp with his wife and two children, said he had learned to always expect the worst.

“We do not have any confidence in the regime and Russia regarding this ceasefire,” he said.

In the town of Kafartakhareem, a correspondent saw dozens protest against the lack of a provision to allow displaced families to return home.

The United Nations has described the mass displacement in just three months as the worst humanitarian emergency since the start of the war in 2011.

Tensions had risen in recent weeks between Damascus and Turkey, which has had troops in northern Syria since 2016 and backs rebel groups.

A regime strike last month in Idlib killed 34 Turkish soldiers, the heaviest loss of personnel for Ankara since its military intervention in Syria.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2020