Russia and Turkey have cut short their first joint patrol in Syria’s Idlib after Turkish-backed militants blocked a main roadway liberated by the Syrian army in January.
The M4 highway, connecting the Syrian government-held provinces of Latakia and Aleppo, was due to be patrolled by Turkish and Russia troops under a ceasefire agreed in Moscow this month.
However, hundreds of militants took advantage of the absence of Syrian troops on Sunday to cut off the highway, witnesses and Russian news agencies said.
The militants rejected the presence of Russian forces and what they said was an agreement that did not guarantee their re-settlement after being pushed out of the region, the report said.
Under the March 5 ceasefire reached between presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, Turkish and Russian forces are to establish a security corridor on either side of the M4, as well as carry out joint patrols along it.
The Russian defense ministry said the joint patrols were cut short because of militant “provocations” and civilians being used as human shields.
Militants, some waving so-called Syrian National Army flags, climbed atop Turkish tanks or stood in their path, according to witnesses.
The militants were cleansed by the Syrian army in January from the regions around M4 and M5 highways which link Damascus to Aleppo.
The liberation of the highways and further advances by the Syrian army did not go well with Turkey which deployed massive troops and armaments to Idlib to prevent a final rout of terrorists.
The military intervention resulted in confrontation with Syrian troops, in which scores of Turkish troops were killed. The clashes stopped after Erodgan traveled to Moscow and clinched a ceasefire.
According to the agreement, joint Russian-Turkish patrols should secure a six-kilometer-wide corridor along the M4 highway connecting the government-held provinces of Latakia and Aleppo.
The ceasefire also consolidates Syrian control over the M5 highway, which links the capital, Damascus, to the major cities of Hama, Homs, and Aleppo.
On Monday, Russia’s foreign ministry said the militants are not complying with the ceasefire. The ministry said the militants were taking counter-offensive action in the region.
Syria launched an offensive last April to drive out terrorists from Idlib after Turkey failed to uphold an earlier ceasefire known as the Sochi agreement.