Russia announces unilateral ceasefire by Syrian forces in Idlib

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The Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, have unilaterally ceased fire in the northwestern Idlib province, the last major rebel-held territory, Moscow’s defence ministry said on Sunday.

However, opposition activists said shelling and air attacks continued on Sunday despite the announcement.

Fighting erupted in northwestern Syria last month and shattered a truce negotiated by Russia and Turkey late last year.

Syrian government forces intensified their attacks on Idlib, which is home to three million people, late in April, as the United Nations and rights groups warned of an humanitarian catastrophe. The offensive by the Syrian army and its allies, uprooted more than 150,000 people, the UN said.

Russia has firmly backed President Bashar Assad’s government in the eight-year civil war, while Turkey has supported some of the rebel groups, but the two sides had worked together to try to contain fighting in the country’s northwest.

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In a brief statement on Sunday, the Russian Defence Ministry’s Centre for Reconciliation of the Warring Sides in Syria said government forces had ceased fire as of midnight. It described the move as unilateral, but did not give any further details.

The pro-government Syrian Central Military Media said government forces responded to shelling by rebel fighters on Sunday on the edge of Idlib, according the Associated Press news agency. It gave no further details.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, war monitoring group, reported an air attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, saying it inflicted casualties.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence also reported shelling near the town of Jisr al-Shughour without reporting any casualties.

Russia-Turkey deal

Turkey and Russia agreed on a truce in Idlib after Ankara pledged to disarm and remove Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) fighters there in a deal reached last September in the Russian city of Sochi.

The deal came after another escalation between the government forces and the HTS fighters in late 2018. Both Russia and Turkey list the HTS as a “terrorist” organisation.

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The Sochi agreement prevented the Russia-backed government forces from launching a major military operation on Idlib and protected the so-called “de-escalation zone” agreed on between Russia, Iran and Turkey in 2017.

Since the Sochi agreement, Moscow various times said that “terrorist groups” were operating in the zone and it opposed the deal reached with Ankara.

In addition, Russia has been piling pressure on Ankara to start an operation in Idlib after Turkey’s failure to get the HTS fighters out of the “de-escalation zone”.

Turkey has said that the recent Syrian government attacks were violating the Sochi agreement.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/russia-announces-unilateral-ceasefire-syrian-forces-idlib-190519182039997.html

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