The cease-fire in northwestern Syria's Idlib has not been violated since coming into force, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Saturday.
"We will continue to be a deterrent force to prevent any violation to the cease-fire. None occurred since the cease-fire entered into force," Akar stated.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin brokered a cease-fire for Idlib that took effect at midnight Friday.
Akar said the truce was an important step toward a political solution in Idlib, Syria's last opposition stronghold.
"We expect a permanent cease-fire and to provide the environment for the return of more than 1 million innocent displaced people, 81% of them women and children," he added.
The minister also said Turkey was monitoring the situation on the ground very closely, stressing: "We will give the harshest response to any attacks on our troops and observation points (in Idlib) without hesitation."
"As of March 15, we will start a joint patrol along the M4 (highway). We started working on the principles of the security corridor to be established along the highway," Akar said, adding that a Russian military committee will visit Turkey early next week.
The cease-fire was reached in Moscow on Thursday after talks to contain the escalating conflict. The talks in Moscow marked the 10th encounter in just over a year between Putin and Erdoğan, who call each other “dear friend” and have polished a fine art of bargaining.
In the last few years, Erdoğan and Putin have worked closely to try to resolve the nine-year conflict, proving that the unique dialogue between the two leaders may overcome the differences in the end. They managed to coordinate their interests by avoiding direct confrontation between their forces in Syria, even though Moscow has been backing the Bashar Assad regime while Ankara has supported opposition groups. Both Russia and Turkey appear eager to avoid a showdown despite conflicting interests in Idlib province, making it difficult to negotiate a mutually acceptable compromise.
The relationship has been strained in recent weeks, with the two sides trading accusations of violating the Sochi deal, which created a buffer zone and allowed for the deployment of 12 Turkish observation posts. Several previous deals to end the fighting in Idlib have collapsed.
The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, have consistently broken the terms of the 2018 cease-fire and a new one that began on Jan. 12, launching frequent attacks inside Idlib province.
Especially since April 2018, the attacks on the last opposition stronghold dramatically intensified and caused new waves of refugee flows that move toward the Turkish border, putting the country, which already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, into a difficult position.
As a result, Turkey, which has the second-largest army in the transatlantic NATO alliance, has funneled troops and equipment into the region in recent weeks to stop the Syrian regime advance and avoid the wave of refugees.
Currently, Turkish soldiers are stationed in the region to protect the local population and counterterrorism groups. Still, despite the military escalation, Ankara also has been putting forth efforts to keep diplomatic channels active with Russia in hope of a finding political solution, urging the country to uphold the peace agreements and ensure an immediate cease-fire.
Nearly a million people have been displaced in a three-month-long Russian-backed offensive by Syrian regime forces in northwest Syria, with the U.N. describing it as the worst humanitarian emergency since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield on Feb. 27 after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were killed last month in an Assad regime airstrike in Idlib province, and after repeated violations of previous cease-fires.
The cease-fire deal came amid recent clashes between the Turkish military and Syrian regime forces that left many dead on both sides. As part of the agreement, all military activities will end in Idlib and a security corridor will be established 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) deep to the north and to the south of the M4 highway.
Joint Turkish-Russian patrols will also begin on March 15 along the M4 highway from the settlement of Trumba, 2 kilometers to the west of Saraqib, to the settlement of Ain-al-Havr, according to the deal.
Turkey has long backed some opposition groups fighting against Assad, but its priority now is to stop another influx of refugees.
The Kremlin, which launched an air war in support of Assad in 2015, sees it as a key success of Putin's foreign policy – with newfound clout and military bases in Syria that establish Moscow as a major player in the Middle East.
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