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Turkey and Russia agree borders of weapon-free zone in Syria's Idlib

Foreign ministers of Ankara, Tehran and Moscow will convene in New York to discuss Syria
Turkish defence ministry said borders of demilitarized zone took into consideration "the characteristics of the geographical structure and residential areas" (AFP)

Turkey and Russia have agreed on the borders of a demilitarised zone in Syria’s Idlib, the Turkish official news agency Anadolu reported on Friday, days after the two countries first announced the creation of a 15-20km boundary between rebels and Syrian government forces.

The Turkish defence ministry said in a statement quoted by Anadolu that the “boundaries of the area to be cleared of weapons in Idlib were determined during the meeting (with the Russian delegation) taking into account the characteristics of the geographical structure and residential areas." The statement did not reveal any information on where the boundaries fall.

Moscow and Ankara, each backing rival sides in the civil war, said on 17 September that they will patrol the buffer zone. "Radically minded" groups, including former al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS), will withdraw from the zone, and heavy weapons held by Syrian rebels in Idlib city would be handed over by 20 October, according to the agreement.

Prior to Monday's announcement, the Syrian government, backed by Russian air power, seemed to have geared up to stage an assault on Idlib province, the last bastion held by Syrian opposition forces, as well as home to thousands of hardline militants.

At least 26 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in the weeks leading up to the agreement, in an escalation of Syrian and Russian air strikes, with barrel bombs and artillery fire striking northwestern Idlib and Hama provinces.

Anadolu also quoted Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, as saying that he will be meeting with his Russian and Iranian counterparts soon in New York to discuss Syria. Cavusoglu is expected to join President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next week. 

Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Tehran 10 days prior to Monday's meeting alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, where the Turkish leader publicly called for a ceasefire.