A cease-fire in Idlib, Syria will take effect just after midnight Thursday, Turkey’s president said following an hours-long meeting in Moscow.
"[In Idlib] the cease-fire will take effect as of 00.01 a.m. [local time] tonight [Friday]." Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a press conference alongside his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The conference came after bilateral talks and the meeting of delegations that lasted over six hours in the Kremlin.
Erdogan said intensified regime attacks on civilians since last May disrupted the peace achieved in the Idlib de-escalation zone.
He stated the Assad regime is targeting the region's stability with its aggression and was mainly responsible for violating the Idlib agreement reached between Turkey and Russia in 2018 to turn the area into a de-escalation zone.
"Turkey, of course, would not stand idle by such a threat," he vowed.
"We have taken a much more active role on the ground both to prevent the regime’s aggression and to restrain the other groups who do not comply with the cease-fire," Erdogan said.
The Syrian regime’s main purpose is to depopulate Idlib and place Turkey in a difficult situation with migration pressure, he said, adding it was inevitable to create a new status in Idlib, especially after last week’s deadly attack that martyred at least 34 Turkish troops.
He said the spirit of the close cooperation between Ankara and Moscow provided a unique contribution to international efforts to end the dispute in Syria.
"First of all we will realize the cease-fire as soon as possible, then we will take other the steps rapidly which we will decide together," Erdogan said, but stressed that Turkey reserves its right to response to any attack by Syrian regime during the process.
"Our aim is to prevent the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in the region," Erdogan said.
Syria talks yield positive results
Putin, for his part, said the sit-down ended with a "positive result" as it managed to find a solution in northwestern Syria that was acceptable to both sides.
"Our close personal contact allows us to quickly resolve various issues of bilateral cooperation and develop common approaches to resolve key international problems.
"We do not always agree with our Turkish partners in their assessments of what is happening in Syria. But every time at critical moments, based on the high level of bilateral relations that we have achieved, we have so far managed to find common ground on the controversial issues that have arisen, and reach acceptable solutions. So it happened this time," Putin said.
Since the beginning of the year, a Russian military base, Hmeimim, in Syria, has been attacked 15 times by the groups in the Idlib de-escalation zone, he said.
"Today, we confirmed the interest of our countries in continuing to work together in the framework of the Astana format. It is the Astana process that has recently given a serious impetus in the context of the Syrian settlement," he said.
Putin thanked the Russian and Turkish delegations, saying they worked hard to prepare for the meeting.
"Our meeting today was preceded by hard work, several rounds of intensive consultations between interagency delegations with an emphasis on the crisis situation in the Idlib zone.
"I would like to thank Mr. President for coming to Moscow today and confirming the level of our relations. I would like to thank all our Turkish colleagues for their hard, difficult, but constructive work, which ended, in my opinion, with a positive result," he said.
Putin expressed hope that the agreement would end hostilities in the Idlib de-escalation zone and prevent a humanitarian crisis.
"I hope that these agreements will serve as a good basis to stop hostilities in the Idlib de-escalation zone, put an end to the suffering of the civilian population, the growing humanitarian crisis, and create conditions for the continuation of the peace process in the Syrian Arab Republic between all the conflicting parties," he said.
Following the joint news conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov announced the additional protocol to the memorandum on the stabilization of the situation in Idlib.
The protocol urged to "cease all military actions along the line of contact in the Idlib de-escalation area starting from 00:01 of March 6, 2020."
On the protocol, Turkey and Russia, as guarantor countries to observe the cease-fire in Syria, recalled the memorandum on the creation of de‑escalation areas in Syria as of May 4, 2017 and the memorandum on stabilization of the situation in the Idlib de-escalation area as of Sept. 17, 2018.
The two countries reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria.
They also "reaffirmed their determination to combat all forms of terrorism, and to eliminate all terrorist groups in Syria as designated by the UN Security Council, while agreeing that targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure cannot be justified under any pretext."
The protocol highlighted that there can be "no military solution to the Syrian conflict and that it can only be resolved through Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, UN facilitated political process in line with the UNSC resolution 2254."
It also added that both sides "stressed the importance of prevention of further deterioration of humanitarian situation, protection of civilians and ensuring humanitarian assistance to all Syrians in need without preconditions and discrimination as well as prevention of displacement of people and facilitation of safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their original places of residence in Syria."
A security corridor will be established 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) deep to the north and to the south from the M4 highway, according to the protocol.
“The specific parameters of the functioning of the security corridor will be agreed between the defense ministries of Turkey and Russia within seven days,” it noted.
Joint Turkish-Russian patrols will begin on March 15 along the M4 highway from the settlement of Trumba -- 2 km (1.2 mi) to the west of Saraqib -- to the settlement of Ain-Al-Havr, the protocol also said.