Although the tenuous ceasefire continues to hold in Syria’s Idlib province, the joint patrols that have been conducted by Russian and Turkish troops have been halted, due to militant attacks. 

The two sides had agreed back in March to conduct joint patrols along the strategic M4 highway. The agreement ended weeks of increased tension in which the two sides were close to coming in direct conflict.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that attacks by “radicals” have caused the halt in the joint patrols. This may prove to be a dangerous precedent. 

“Terrorists have stepped up the amount of shelling on government troops and nearby settlements, not ceasing their provocations in the ‘security corridor’ along the M4 highway. Thus, the joint patrols have been suspended,” she stated during a Thursday news conference.

Zakharova added that different factions in Idlib were attacking Hmeimim’s base in the Latakia countryside with drones, adding that these attacks “are extremely troubling.”

She said that “achieving permanent stability in the de-escalation zone in Idlib is not possible unless terrorists are neutralized.”

The ceasefire deal reached by Ankara and Moscow on March 5 created a corridor on either side of the M4 highway which connects Syria’s east and west. The corridor stretches six km to the north and to the south of the M4. Although the two sides conducted 24 joint patrols since mid-March, they faced problems right from the start.

Opposition groups that are hostile to the Russian presence in Idlib, had immediately begun sit-ins, blocking the M4 with protests. Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an armed group that had been linked to both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, had publicly stated that it would disrupt the patrols. The Russians had said, that the mere presence of HTS in Idlib was the reason they were attacking in the first place. The United States and others have branded the HTS as a terrorist organization.