Turkish Forces Begin Syria Patrols As Part Of Deal With Russia
By RFE/RL March 09, 2019
Turkish forces have begun patrolling in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib as part of a deal struck with Russia and Iran in the war-torn country.
State-run Anadolu news agency on March 8 said the patrols range from Idlib's north along the Turkish border to the southern countryside of Aleppo Province.
Turkey's defense minister, Hulusi Akar, said Turkey would patrol inside a 15-20 kilometer-wide demilitarized zone, while Russia would patrol the border area outside Idlib.
Akar said the Russian patrols were also to begin on March 8, but it was not immediately known if they started as scheduled.
He said the patrols represent "an important step for the continuation of [the] cease-fire and maintaining stability [in Idlib]."
A correspondent for the AFP news agency early on March 8 reported seeing a convoy of about 10 Turkish armored vehicles on a road in the demilitarized zone in the western countryside of Aleppo Province.
The move follows a meeting on February 14 between the leaders of Turkey, Russia, and Iran in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to finalize a deal reached last year on the creation of a demilitarized zone in the region.
The accord was aimed at preventing a large-scale offensive in Idlib by the Syrian military, which had been carrying out shelling there directed at the Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group that took administrative control of the region in January
Akar accused the Syrian government of the "brutal bombardment" of civilians in the province, and he called on Moscow to "stop the regime" from conducting the bombings.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor that utilizes sources inside Syria, said Turkish troops "spread out in the areas of Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, and the slopes of the Latakia mountains are preparing to conduct patrols in the areas of implementation of the agreement [by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan]."
Despite supporting opposing sides in the eight-year Syrian civil war, cooperation between Russian and Turkish forces has increased since U.S. President Donald Trump said he was pulling out the 2,000 U.S. troops in the country that had been supporting a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against Al-Qaeda and other militants.
The White House has since said that some 400 "peacekeeping troops" would remain in the country for an indefinite period.
Russia and Iran have backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, while the United States and Turkey have supported different antigovernment fighters.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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