ANKARA: Turkish and Russian troops who began joint patrols on Sunday on the key east-west M4 highway in northwest Syria faced protests and roadblocks set up by local residents.
Militant fighters in Idlib also launched attacks despite a cease-fire agreement between Turkey and Russia signed in Moscow on March 5, and the planned route for the patrols had to be shortened.
The M4 runs from the Mediterranean through northern Syria to the Iraqi border, and has been partially closed for the past eight years. Some parts of it remain under opposition control.
“These patrols are meant to be politically symbolic, demonstrating both countries’ ability to cut through rebel-controlled Idlib and secure the highway,” Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Arab News.
But she said the blocking of the patrols by local residents suggests that the cease-fire deal is unpopular among opposition groups, who fear that Turkey will hand areas south of the M4 to Russia.
Prof. Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said Ankara had to cooperate with Moscow to preserve Turkey’s larger interests in Syria. “Ankara won’t tolerate these opposition groups derailing its renewed cooperation with Moscow,” he said.
“Turkey’s priority is to secure Russia’s consent to Turkey asserting its influence in Kobani and other Kurdish-dominated regions in northern Syria. As part of this objective, Turkish construction projects in the region are essential.”