Turkey and Russia announce ceasefire in northwest Syria

A happy song blasts from the speakers in the courtyard of a school turned into a camp for displaced people, drowning out the sound of shelling in the distance. But the Syrian civil war is never far. CNN’s Awa Damon reports on the unparalleled humanitarian crisis with no end in sight.

Turkey and Russia announced a ceasefire in Idlib, Syria’s last opposition enclave on Thursday, agreeing to establish a security corridor with joint patrols.

The announcement came after a nearly six hour long meeting between the two countries’ leaders in Moscow. The ceasefire begins at midnight local time and freezes an advance by the Syrian government that has triggered a humanitarian crisis.

The security corridor will be six kilometers (3.7 miles) to the north and to the south of the strategic M4 highway running through Idlib province. Turkey and Russia will begin carrying out joint patrols along the highway on March 15.

But it is unclear what, if any, mechanism will be implemented to enforce the ceasefire.

“In this process, Turkey reserves the right to respond to any attacks from the regime, anywhere and with full force,” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a news conference after the summit. “Until there is a lasting peace in the Syria crisis that ensures the country’s territorial integrity and political unity, Turkey is committed to continuing all its initiatives,” he added.

Syria’s offensive in Idlib

Previous negotiations between Russia and Turkey in Astana in 2017 and Sochi in 2018, led to the creation of the so-called Idlib de-escalation zone, and the designation of some areas into demilitarized zones.

But after a series of broken ceasefires, the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia, launched a massive offensive against the last opposition enclave. In response, Turkey upped its military posture and sent reinforcements into the area. A regime attack killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers last week.

At least 14 people including children were killed earlier on Thursday in a “double tap airstrike” on a chicken farm housing internally displaced families, according to medical groups on the ground in northwest Syria.

More than 20 people were injured in the attack, which occurred in the early morning hours on Thursday in the town of Maarat Misrin, according to volunteer rescue group known as the White Helmets.

One person is still missing and rescue workers on the scene are still searching the rubble, say the White Helmets.

A “double tap strike” is a term is used for attacks on the same place in a short period, intended to maximize casualties including first responders.

One Turkish soldier was killed in the region on Thursday, according to Turkish authorities.

Humanitarian crisis

The Syrian government’s winter offensive on the area has triggered a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations estimated last month that 950,000 people have fled since the beginning of December. Most of them are women and children, the UN said.

The mass exodus from the region has led to a standoff between Greece and Turkey over immigration, after thousands of migrants gathered at the border between the two countries. Turkey’s government last week began allowing refugees to cross its border toward Europe, saying it had “reached its capacity” to hold them. Greece has refused to open its side of the border, and responded to the influx of people with force.

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