A joint Russian-Turkish vehicle patrol in northwest Syria’s Idlib Province was hit with a massive improvised explosive device (IED) on Tuesday morning at 0850 hours local time. Three Russian troops and several Turks were injured in the blast. Both Russian and Turkish vehicles were damaged in the attack. 

Although the Russians and Turks support opposing sides in the ongoing decade-long Syrian civil war, they conduct joint patrols along the strategically important M4 highway. The patrols are part of a ceasefire agreement in an attempt to deescalate the violence in the region.

The director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Rami Abdel Rahman reported that “numerous explosions were heard as the patrol passed in a village northeast of the town of Ariha.”

However, a video posted on Twitter appears to show only one large explosion. 

SOHR reported that the jihadists attacked “despite Turkish forces having heavily combed the area 24 hours before the joint patrol set off on the road separating areas controlled by the rebels from those held by government forces, according to the ceasefire.”

Jihadists have been able to block parts of the patrolled area. They have also mobilized local support to protest the patrols in certain areas, according to SOHR. Yet, there had not been an attack like this before. SOHR added that the section from the village of Tarbana in east Idlib province to the village of Ain Hawr in the north of Latakia province has been effectively blocked.

The Syrian government’s offensive, backed by massive Russian airstrikes, had displaced nearly a million people between December and March. Nevertheless, as a result of the ceasefire, many civilians have been moving back into the area.

The Russians and Syrians are attempting to displace the al-Qaeda affiliated group called “Hayat Tahir al-Sham” which is the main jihadist rebel group in Idlib province.

According to unnamed Russian sources, the Russians responded to the IED blast with several airstrikes that targeted “terrorists” in Latakia. Local Syrians loyal to the government of Bashar al-Assad said that the area that the blast occurred in was controlled by the group that calls itself the “Hurras al-Din” which is aligned with al-Qaeda.

Russian-Turkish patrol attacked on M4 highway in Syria

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Despite the ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey, the jihadist groups, most notably Hurras al-Din and Hayat Tahir al-Sham, have continued to operate in the region. The Russians have said that the ceasefire does not cover the terrorist groups and have continued to target them with airstrikes. 

Coincidentally, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had broken away from al-Qaeda, was found in a Hurras al-Din area last October and killed during a raid by members of the Joint Special Operations Command’S (JSOC) Delta Force and the 75th Ranger Regiment. The United States has also targeted the group with airstrikes in the past.

This bombing of the Russian patrol could be the impetus for the Assad regime to renew, with Russian backing, its offensive in Idlib. Turkey has yet to respond, but the way it does will need to be watched closely.