Russia and Turkey have announced that a deep demilitarised zone will be established in Syria’s Idlib region, the last bastion of anti-government rebels where fears had been high of a devastating offensive by government forces.
The zone will be established by October 15 and will be nine to 12 miles deep, President Vladimir Putin said after a meeting with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I believe that with this agreement we prevented a humanitarian crisis in Idlib,” Mr Erdogan said at a joint briefing with Mr Putin in Sochi.
The province of Idlib in north-west Syria is the last rebel stronghold, and Turkey has been eager to prevent a government assault.
Moscow has called Idlib a hotbed of terrorism and had said the Syrian government had the right to retake control of it.
Turkey appealed to Russia and Iran, its uneasy negotiating partners, for a diplomatic resolution. At the same time, it has sent reinforcements to its troops ringing Idlib, a move designed to ward off a ground assault for now.
Asked whether Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government agreed with the Putin-Erdogan plan, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters in Sochi: “In the coming hours, we will agree with them on all the positions put forth in this document.”
Mr Putin said the demilitarised zone would be enforced by patrols of Turkish forces and Russian military police.
It was quiet in Idlib and surrounding areas on Monday, a continuation of the calm that started less than a week ago amid Russia-Turkey talks.
Idlib and surrounding areas are home to more than three million Syrians, and an estimated 60,000 rebel fighters.