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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Cease-fire in Syria Largely Holds on First Day

By VOA News March 06, 2020

Monitors in Syria said Friday that a cease-fire was largely holding on the first day of a truce between Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, and Turkey, which backs some Syrian rebel groups.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said that since the cease-fire in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib came into force at midnight, there had been no reports of Syrian or Russian warplanes flying over the region.

It said there were limited clashes before dawn Friday between Syrian government forces and jihadist insurgents of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur-dominated group, in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib. Fifteen people were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory. However, the monitoring group reported relative calm in the rest of Idlib.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Assad in a phone call Friday that the cease-fire would help to stabilize the situation in Syria, according to the Kremlin.

Russia and Turkey previously have reached multiple cease-fire agreements in Idlib, but none has been successful, and Syrian residents expressed skepticism Friday that this one would last.

EU foreign ministers, meeting on the Syrian crisis Friday in Zagreb, Croatia, cautiously welcomed the cease-fire.

"For sure, I am pleased for the cease-fire, the cease-fire is good news. At least it's goodwill. Let's see how it works," EU High Representative Josep Borrell said as he arrived for talks.

"It is important now to concentrate on humanitarian aid and I would welcome if Russia would respect the concept of humanitarian aid corridors to be widened," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said.

Some EU countries, led by the Netherlands, have called for a no-fly zone over Idlib to stop Syrian government forces from bombing civilian targets.

"EU countries are willing to provide humanitarian aid to Idlib. The challenge is to get aid into the area, and that's where the cease-fire might help. A no-fly zone might help even more," Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said.

However, the 27-member bloc has no power to implement or enforce a no-fly zone, and officials have privately expressed skepticism.

Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Thursday to a cease-fire in Idlib, following talks on easing tensions in the region.

The Syrian-Russian offensive in Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria, has driven more than 1 million civilians toward the Turkish border over the past three months.

"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," Putin said.

Erdogan said that they would "work together to supply aid for the Syrians in need" and that he reserved the right "to respond to all [Syrian] regime attacks in the field."

The two leaders also agreed to secure a key highway in the Idlib area with joint patrols beginning next week.

The announcement came days after Erdogan said he would open his borders to Western Europe. Since then, migrants have massed at the Turkish-Greek border, leading to clashes with Greek police. Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million migrants and refugees from Syria.

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