Turkish and Russian militaries held a fourth joint patrol in Syria's Idlib region, the RIA news agency cited the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria as saying on Wednesday.
The patrol covered the M4 highway, which links the cities of Aleppo and Latakia, and is part of the two countries' efforts to uphold a cease-fire agreement in the region.
Turkey and Russia, who back opposing sides in Syria's war, agreed on March 5 to halt military activity in the northwestern Idlib region after an escalation of violence displaced nearly a million people and brought the two sides close to confrontation. The deal addresses Turkey's main concerns, namely stopping a flow of refugees and preventing the deaths of more Turkish soldiers on the ground.
As part of the agreement, Turkish and Russian forces are to carry out joint patrols along the M4 highway linking Syria's east and west, as well as to establish a security corridor on either side of the road.
During earlier negotiations, Russia reportedly proposed a map that edged the borders of the Sochi deal borders north of the strategic M4 and M5 highways, thus putting 60% of Idlib under regime control. However, Turkey said it would make no concessions on its observation points. Along with many European officials and the U.N., Ankara is concerned about the civilian displacement in Idlib due to regime operations, which could trigger a new mass exodus to the Turkish border and Western countries.
Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield on Feb. 27 after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in a Bashar Assad regime airstrike in Idlib province and after repeated violations of previous cease-fires.
According to a 2018 deal with Russia, Turkish troops were to remain in Idlib to protect civilians from attacks by the regime and terrorist groups.
The M4 motorway connects the port city of Latakia to the Iraqi border while the M5 forms the backbone of the country's highways, connecting economic hub Aleppo to the central cities of Hama and Homs, the capital Damascus and to the Jordanian border farther south. Opening major highways in the region to revive a shattered war economy has been a key goal of the Russian-led campaign.
Before the war, the M5 motorway served as an economic artery for Syria, mainly feeding the country’s industrial hub of Aleppo. Experts estimate the road carried business worth $25 million a day at the height of Syria’s trade boom before the war.
The highway was a passageway for the crossing of wheat and cotton from the Syrian east and north to the rest of the country. It was also a road used for the exchange of commodities with regional trade partners.