Turkey and Russia have launched joint patrols in Idlib province, the Syrian opposition’s last major bastion in the country.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters on Friday that the operation followed an agreement made in September last year that was aimed at preventing the Syrian government from launching an attack on Idlib – home to nearly three million people.
Idlib province is the last major area held by Syrian rebels and is controlled by Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which was previously affiliated to al-Qaeda.
According to the agreement, Russian forces would patrol the edge of the rebel-held province while the Turkish army would operate in the demilitarised zone.
Turkey has long feared that any attack on Idlib could force hundreds of thousands of new refugees to flow to its borders. It already hosts over three million Syrian refugees.
The Syrian civil war started as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad in March 2011, but quickly developed into a full-scale conflict after the Syrian leader refused to concede power.
The former UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, estimated at least 400,000 people had died over the first five years of conflict. The current death toll is unknown.