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Militants in Syria's Idlib not complying with ceasefire: Russian Foreign Ministry

Turkish-backed Takfiri militants are pictured in the town of Saraqib in the eastern part of the Idlib province in northwestern Syria, on February 27, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

The Russian Foreign Ministry says foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants are not complying with the terms of a ceasefire reached earlier this month by Ankara and Moscow to halt an escalation of violence in Syria’s embattled northwestern province of Idlib.

The ministry, in a statement released on Monday, announced that the militants wreaking havoc on the restive area have re-armed, and are now taking counter-offensive action there, Interfax news agency reported.

The statement further highlighted that terrorists in Idlib must either be eliminated or prosecuted.

On Sunday, Russia and Turkey cut short their first joint patrol in Idlib after Takfiri militants cut off the strategic M4 highway, according to witnesses and Russian news agencies.

The extremists reportedly rejected the presence of Russian forces, and claimed the agreement did not guarantee their re-settlement after being pushed out of the region.

Militants, some waving flags of the so-called and Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, climbed atop Turkish tanks or stood in the path of Russian armored vehicles, according to witnesses. 

The Russian Defense Ministry later announced that the joint patrols were cut short because of militant “provocations” and civilians being used as human shields, adding that they were forced to take a shorter route, Russia’s state-run RIA news agency reported.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced on March 13 that the Russian and Turkish militaries had agreed on the details of a new ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib de-escalation zone following four days of talks in Ankara.

Akar said the first joint patrol by Turkey and Russia on the M4 highway in Idlib would be carried out on March 15, and that Turkey and Russia will set up joint coordination centers in the area.

The announcement followed a telephone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan the previous day to discuss the implementation of the agreements the two leaders had reached in Moscow the previous week.

“Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed the importance of continued close joint efforts, first of all between the Russian and Turkish defense ministries, in order to ensure a stable ceasefire and further stabilization of the situation,” a Kremlin press release read.

“It was agreed to maintain a regular dialogue at various levels, including personal contacts,” the statement added.

Turkey sends military reinforcements to Syria’s Ra’s al-Ayn

Separately, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that the Turkish army has sent heavy reinforcements into the key border region of Ra's al-Ayn in Syria’s northeastern province of al-Hasakah.

Local sources, requesting not to be named, said a 15-vehicle military convoy, including armored vehicles carrying military equipment and logistics, entered the village of al-Arbaeen on Sunday evening.

SANA added that the development took place only hours after Turkish military forces launched volleys of mortar shells at residential areas in the Tal Tamr district of the same Syrian province.

Local sources said the shelling targeted places in the village of Tawila al-Weka, causing huge material damage.

On Saturday, Turkish forces and their allied Takfiri militants had mounted rocket attacks against Um al-Khair and Tawila villages.

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