Route of first Russian-Turkish patrol along key de-escalation line shortened to prevent terrorist provocation involving civilians

15 Mar, 2020

Russian and Turkish forces in Syria’s province of Idlib have had to shorten their first joint patrol mission aimed at maintaining truce in the area to avoid harming civilians used as human shield by terrorists.

On Sunday, Turkey and Russia set out on their first joint patrol along the security corridor in Idlib, agreed as part of a ceasefire deal reached by presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in early March. The route of the patrol went along the strategic M4 highway, which links Syria’s city of Aleppo to the coastal western province of Latakia and passes through the territories held by various militant groups.

A map of Syria’s Idlib province showing the security corridor, which is to be established under the agreement between Moscow and Ankara. © RT

Yet, the Russian and the Turkish forces had to make some frantic last-minute changes to the patrol routes. The move was linked to the information about some terrorist groups allegedly planning to attack the patrol and provoke it into some military response, all while using women and children as human shields to stir up tensions in a region which has just seen a major flare-up. Any such incident could lead to a new outbreak of violence and disrupt the agreement aimed at avoiding further bloodshed.

“The Russian-Turkish coordination center decided to shorten the route distance … to avoid any incident that could result in civilian suffering,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that Turkey was given more time to clear out the extremists and ensure the safety of further joint missions. It remains unclear, so far, what exact modification was made to the patrol route.

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The joint missions were agreed by Moscow and Ankara as part of a package of various de-escalation measures in Idlib, after a Syrian Army offensive in the area targeting various extremist and militant groups infuriated Turkey and put the two nations on a brink of a full-blown war with each other. Russia then made diplomatic efforts to ease the tensions and eventually managed to strike a deal with Ankara, following several rounds of uneasy talks.

Earlier this week, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that the two sides have largely reached a consensus on Idlib. Turkish forces were expected to patrol areas north of the M4 highway, which have long been controlled by various anti-government forces while the Russian military would carry out patrols to the south of it, closer to the Syrian Army positions.

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