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Bloody clashes in Idlib, Syria, hours after the ceasefire began

US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — Bloody clashes took place in southern Idlib on Friday, hours after the start of a ceasefire agreement reached by Russia and Turkey aimed at ending the fighting in the last enclave controlled by Syria.

A source in the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a source in the opposition said that the clashes took place in the Jabal Al-Zawiya area between the Syrian government forces and the Turkistan Islamic Party. The observatory said that this resulted in the death of 15 people.

Residents and opposition fighters said the violence had subsided elsewhere.

However, the clashes underscored the fragility of the agreement between Russia, which supports the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which supports opposition groups, but its influence is less on radical jihadists who control large parts of Idlib.

The ceasefire agreement aims to contain a conflict that has displaced nearly a million people within three months in northwestern Syria.

Several previous agreements to end the fighting in Idlib collapsed. Analysts and residents expressed fears that the latest agreement would meet the same fate because it did not address the humanitarian crisis or air protection in any detail.

“This agreement was not formulated in a way that guarantees its continuation, but in a way that makes it doomed to fail … Unfortunately in the not-too-distant future,” said Gallip Dalai, researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

He continued, “Any arrangement of the cease-fire in Idlib, unless it includes a no-fly zone, will be doomed to failure. Previous agreements never led to a de-escalation, but the crisis was frozen until the next escalation.

On Friday, Dutch Foreign Minister Steve Block said upon his arrival to attend a meeting with his counterparts in the European Union that the ceasefire agreement should be strengthened by setting up a no-fly zone to prevent any hospitals being bombed again.

A humanitarian crisis

The recent fighting triggered a crisis that the United Nations described as the worst humanitarian crisis to date in the war that has displaced millions of people from their homes and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Russia has repeatedly played down any talk of a refugee crisis and accused Turkey of violating international law after pushing troops and equipment into Idlib since early last month. About 60 Turkish soldiers have been killed since then.

Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, has sought to block the progress of the Syrian government and prevent a flow of refugees across its southern border. Turkey already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

The ceasefire agreement provides for the establishment of a security corridor that extends six kilometers to the north and south of the M4 highway linking east and west of Idlib and where joint Russian-Turkish patrols will begin on March 15, which effectively enhances Russia’s presence in northern Idlib.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hoped the agreement would be “a good basis for stopping military activity in the Idlib de-escalation zone”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the two sides will work together to provide aid to the Syrians who need it, but added that Turkey reserves the right to “respond to all attacks of the (Syrian) regime in the field.”

“Calm tinged with extreme tension”

Residents and fighters in the area stated that the front lines, which witnessed intense air strikes by Russian and Syrian aircraft, artillery strikes, and Turkish aircraft marching on Assad’s forces, were calm in most of the region after the ceasefire took effect at midnight on Thursday.

Abdel-Ghani Al-Sheikh, a fighter from the Turkish-backed Legion of the Levant, said the ceasefire was in effect but was marred by violations. He added that the government forces bombed Jabal Al-Zawiya and Atarib to the south and east of Idlib.

However, he added that the situation was generally better. He said that everyone has a belief that this is temporary and that Turkish reinforcements are still coming.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the first eight hours of the ceasefire passed in relative calm, and that the atmosphere was free of Syrian and Russian warplanes.

A Syrian TV reporter from Saraqeb, a town that Syrian forces recovered last week, said sites on the front lines were being strengthened.

The agreement did not provide details of a “safe area” and did not describe how the displaced people could return to their homes from which they fled to escape the Russian-backed offensive.

Ahmed Rahal, a former officer in the Syrian government forces who defected and joined the opposition, said that no one had mentioned a safe area or areas to withdraw and asked where the displaced who would never accept to go to the Syrian government areas would go.

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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.