Turkey, Russia agree to ceasefire in war-torn Idlib, Syria
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled attacks recently in Idlib, many heading toward Turkey
Turkey's Defence Ministry said on Friday that it had agreed with Russia that a ceasefire will be implemented on Sunday in northwestern Syria's Idlib region to stem the flow of civilians uprooted by the violence.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled attacks in Idlib province toward the Turkish border in recent weeks, as towns and villages have been pounded by Russian jets and Syrian artillery since a renewed government assault last month.
Turkey's defence ministry said attacks by air and land would halt at one minute past midnight on Jan. 12 under the ceasefire, which Ankara has been seeking for several weeks.
The announcement came a day after a Russian defence ministry official was quoted as saying that a ceasefire had already been implemented at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, in line with agreements with Turkey.
Some 3.6 million Syrians have sought shelter in Turkey from their country's nearly nine-year civil war. President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey cannot carry the burden of more refugees from Idlib, where up to three million people live.
Many Syrians still in Idlib are completely dependent on cross-border aid, according to the United Nations, but a six-year-long United Nations operation delivering supplies will expire at midnight on Friday if a deadlocked UN Security Council cannot reach a last-minute deal to extend its authorization.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has vowed to recapture Idlib, the last rebel-held swathe of territory. Turkey has for years backed Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin paid his first visit to Syria in over two years on Tuesday, meeting with Assad in Damascus.
Putin's rare visit came just days after the killing of Iran's Qassem Soleimani, one of the key figures in Syria's war as the architect of Iranian military operations in the Middle East. Soleimani had just returned from Syria when he was killed by a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport in Iraq.
Though Iran and Russia worked together to beat back the anti-Assad insurgency, tensions have occasionally surfaced between them on the ground, where analysts say they have been vying for influence.
Putin told Assad that much had been done to restore Syrian statehood, while Assad thanked Putin for his assistance in restoring peaceful life in Syria, the Kremlin said.
Putin's previous trip to Syria was in 2017, when he visited Russia's Hmeymim air base.