The Russian military has announced a unilateral ceasefire in Idlib – the last rebel stronghold in Syria after thousands fled to the Turkish border as part of a protest to demand an end to a military offensive by both government’s forces.
According to a report by the Russian news agency Interfax, the ceasefire went into effect on Saturday morning at 6 am local time, following displaced Syrians’ protests at the frontier demanding protection from Turkey.
Turkish security forces used teargas and fired warning shots to stop the crowds from pushing their way past the border guards in armored vehicles.
The ceasefire was on Friday afternoon announced amid an increasingly deteriorating situation in Syria’s southwestern Idlib province that risks the lives of its three million residents, with roughly half thought to have been displaced from elsewhere in the country.
With military support from Russia , Syrian President Bashar Assad launched an assault on Idlib in April, despite an agreement with Turkey to establish a de-escalation zone in the province last September.
Turkey which has been the main backer of several rebel groups in the conflict, has not fulfilled its part of the deal failing to remove the “extremist” fighters from the agreed territory, Moscow and Damascus argue.
Assad’s forces supported by Russia have intensified attacks in Idlib lately, with airstrikes reportedly targeting a Turkish observation post in Morek and areas near two more of the Turkish-manned posts.
“If we say the developments regarding Idlib are at a point we desire, it would be a lie. It is not where we want it right now,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Friday.
“There has been harassment at our observation posts nine and 10. They are coming towards us and we need to be vigilant, we need to be cautious, and we have taken all the necessary precautions,” he added.
The president also stated that he had warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about the issue following their meeting in Russia earlier this week.
Syrians who oppose Assad interpreted the friendly meeting between Erdogan and Putin who has supported the Syrian government’s armed resistance for years, as a betrayal.
Although the Turkish government had welcomed Syrian refugees with an “open door” policy a month after the beginning of the eight-year Syrian civil war in March 2011 it has begun taking measures to slow the flow of refugees, recently.
Erdogan’s government reportedly started tightening restrictions and strictly enforcing rules binding the refugees to certain municipalities and allegedly forced some to return to their war-torn homeland.
Recent reports by rights groups have shown that hundreds of refugees being deported back to Syria as part of a crackdown on those without the right residency papers, according to an Al Jazeera news report on Friday.
However the Turkish government has denied the reports arguing that some 350,000 refugees who returned to Syria from Turkey since the conflict began have done so voluntarily.
A government crackdown on some four million Syrian refugees followed the increasing discontent and hostility towards them from segments of the Turkish population and the authorities.
Last year, Turkey’s economic slump has stirred up worries that Syrian refugees are taking jobs, driving down wages, and driving up rents.