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In the news: Ceasefire appears to hold in Syria’s Idlib

Turkey and Russia have agreed a deal to pause the devastating violence in Syria’s northwest, but it’s unclear how long it will last.

Image of families fleeing southern Idlib province on 7 February 2020
Families flee southern Idlib province on 7 February 2020. Nearly one million people have been displaced in northwest Syria in the last three months. (Khaled Akacha/UNICEF)

A Russia-Turkey brokered ceasefire appears to be holding in northwest Syria, where violence has forced nearly one million people into flight in the past three months alone.

The truce came into effect at 00:01 local time Friday, after hours of meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Russia is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has provided him with crucial air support during a long campaign to take back Idlib province and the surrounding areas from rebels. 

Turkey backs some of the rebels and lost 36 troops in an air and artillery attack late last month, in an incident that threatened to further escalate a conflict that has already killed civilians, seen hospitals and clinics bombed out of service, and overwhelmed aid agencies with the sheer scale of need

While all the details of the truce deal are not yet clear, it appears to include a security corridor on Idlib’s strategic M4 highway that will be patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops.

A previous deal between the two countries had been staving off a government offensive in Idlib, but it collapsed in April, leading to the humanitarian disaster that aid agencies had warned of.

The UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, says 338,000 newly displaced people in Idlib are now staying in camps or individual tents, and 173,000 people are sheltering in unfinished houses or buildings. Many people have fled north towards the closed Syria-Turkey border, and OCHA says that in northwest Idlib “more and more people are displaced in small areas where existing services that are vital for their survival are overwhelmed”.

– Annie Slemrod

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