Turkish, Russian delegations continue talks on ceasefire in Idlib, just south of Turkey's border, says defence minister.

A convoy of Turkish military vehicles is pictured near the town of Hazano in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province on March 3, 2020.
A convoy of Turkish military vehicles is pictured near the town of Hazano in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province on March 3, 2020. (AFP)

Turkey's armed forces maintain their presence in the province of Idlib, Syria, just across Turkey’s southern border, said the Turkish defence minister early Thursday.

Rebuffing any claim that Turkey has withdrawn from the region of northwest Syria, Hulusi Akar told reporters in the capital, Ankara, that "our elements maintain their presence".

On talks between Turkish and Russian military officials on starting joint patrols in Idlib, under the terms of a ceasefire reached last week, Akar said: "The Russian military delegation arrived and talks continue. We reached a great deal of agreement."

"Our forces have been ordered to act accordingly if the ceasefire is violated and attacks continue. Everyone is ready at any moment … we will pick up where we left off and hurt them [Assad regime forces]," Akar added. 

After at least 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred last month in Idlib by Assad regime forces, Turkey retaliated on regime targets and launched Operation Spring Shield in the province to prevent further attacks on Syrian civilians and Turkish troops.

The troops were in Idlib under the terms of a previous 2018 ceasefire deal for the Syrian province.

Akar added that five top terrorists affiliated with the YPG/PKK had been neutralised in northern Iraq in air – and intelligence-backed operations. 

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK ­– listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and EU – has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. The YPG is the PKK's Syrian offshoot.

Source: AA