Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Russia announces ceasefire in Syria's Idlib from Saturday

Months-long Moscow-backed offensive by Assad regime has killed hundreds of civilians

The Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets and residents search for victims under the rubble of destroyed buildings that was hit by airstrikes in the northern town of Maaret Al Numan, in Idlib province, Syria. Russia has announced a ceasefire in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province from Saturday morning. AP
The Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets and residents search for victims under the rubble of destroyed buildings that was hit by airstrikes in the northern town of Maaret Al Numan, in Idlib province, Syria. Russia has announced a ceasefire in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province from Saturday morning. AP

Russia has announced a ceasefire in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province from Saturday morning, offering respite to civilians who have endured a months-long campaign of bombardment that has killed hundreds.

An agreement was reached on "a unilateral ceasefire by Syrian government forces in the Idlib de-escalation zone, from 6am [0300 GMT] on August 31," the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria said in a statement.

Russia's defence ministry also urged armed militant groups in the region to join the ceasefire, according to Interfax news agency.

The announcement follows talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow earlier this week.

The two countries agreed on a ceasefire in the last major rebel-held Syrian territory in September last year amid concerns about a humanitarian catastrophe that a military campaign would cause. The deal was never fully implemented and collapsed with the start of a Russia-backed offensive by President Bashar Al Assad's forces in April.

The Assad regime has come in for mounting international criticism over the civilian toll from the offensive. At least 900 civilians had been killed and about 400,000 displaced by early August, according to the UN and a war monitor.

On August 1, UN chief Antonio Guterres ordered a special investigation into the repeated bombing of hospitals and schools n Idlib by Syria and Russia. The Syrian government announced a ceasefire hours later but resumed its offensive within days after accusing opposition fighters of failing to withdraw fighters and heavy weapons from a buffer zone around the rebel-held under the terms of the Turkey-Russia truce.

Russia is President Al Assad's main backer along with Iran, while Turkey has supported Syrian opposition groups.

The latest truce announcement came a day after diplomats at the UN said a draft resolution addressing the worsening humanitarian situation in Idlib would be presented to the Security Council within days. Belgium's ambassador to the UN, Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, said his country had drafted the resolution along with Kuwait and Germany.

The government scored after a string of victories after resuming its offensive, its first significant gains since April. Troops retook the key town of Khan Sheikhoun, which sits on a highway connecting the capital Damascus to the northern city of Aleppo, and surrounding areas last week after opposition fighters withdrew.

Government forces have also moved deeper into territory along the Turkish border, taking the town of Tamaneh after earlier capturing Khwain, Zarzoor and Tamanah farms, Syrian army defectors and residents said. The advance came after the government intensified air strikes and brought in reinforcements including elite army units and Iran-backed militias, they told Reuters.

"There are daily reinforcements coming from the Iranian militias, elite Republican Guards units and Fourth Armoured Division," said Colonel Mustafa Bakour, a commander in Jaish al Izza rebel group.

In recent weeks, Moscow sent more special forces that helped break months of stalemate on frontlines where rebels had been holding the army back, western intelligence sources have said.

Updated: August 30, 2019 06:19 PM

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