MOSCOW/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia and Turkey were forced to cut short their first joint patrol under a ceasefire deal along an east-west highway in northwest Syria on Sunday due to rebel provocations, the Russian Defense Ministry was cited as saying by Russian news agencies.
The patrol on the M4 highway in Idlib province was the result of a March 5 ceasefire accord between Moscow and Ankara, which back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year war. The ceasefire has largely held since then.
Under the deal, which halted hostilities after an escalation of violence that displaced nearly a million people, Turkish and Russian forces are to establish a security corridor on either side of the M4, as well as carry out joint patrols along it.
“To carry out provocations, terrorists were trying to use civilians as a human shield,” the Russian Defense Ministry was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency RIA, explaining the reason for the patrol being cut short.
Ankara had been given more time to neutralize the rebels who orchestrated the provocation, the ministry said. While Russia supports Syrian government forces, Turkey supports the Syrian rebel groups fighting against them.
The Russian military police, who used three vehicles in Sunday’s patrol, were planning to conduct more joint patrols with Turkey on a regular basis, Russia’s Rossiya 24 TV channel said.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said the first patrol had been completed with air and land assets. It released photos showing Russian and Turkish military vehicles traveling along a highway and officers in discussion as they looked at a map.
It subsequently said the two sides in coordination “took necessary measures, with the aim of preventing potential provocations and harm to the civilian population in the region”. It did not give further details.
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