Syria ceasefire deal takes effect amid continued regime attacks
Russian and Syrian government warplanes were entirely absent from the skies of Idlib, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Airstrikes over the past three months have killed hundreds and sent a million people fleeing toward the Turkish border, during President Bashar Al-Assad's bloody assault on the country's final rebel-held area.
However, signs of a complete lull quickly proved fanciful, with SOHR reporting sporadic bouts of artillery fire by the Syrian regime on areas of Aleppo province, the Hama countryside and the Jabal al-Zawiya area of Idlib province.
Russian President Vladmir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two main power brokers in the nine-year-old conflict, reached an agreement after hours of talks in Moscow on Thursday.
A key feature of the deal is a plan to form a security corridor along the strategic M4 highway, which links Aleppo to the port of Latakia and passes through Idlib. Turkish and Russian forces will launch joint patrols later this month.
Read more: Turkey, Russia agree Syria ceasefire from midnight
Unsuprisingly, Thursday's deal also appeared to capitulate to Russia's goal of securing Syrian regime control over another key highway, the M5, which links the country's four largest cities and population centers: Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo.
Regime forces captured the entire length of the M5 in their latest offensive against Idlib.
Relations between Russia, which backs the Assad regime, and Turkey, which backs anti-Assad rebels, were placed under severe strain when Ankara sent thousands of troops to Syria to stop regime advances, in a military operation termed "Operation Spring Shield".
Hours before Friday's ceasefire was announced, Turkey's Defence Ministry announced that army drones had "neutralised" 21 Syrian troops to avenge the "martydom" of two Turkish soldiers, Turkey's Anadolu Agency reported.
However, in a joint news conference with Erdogan, Putin said that the agreement with Turkey would "serve as a good basis for ending fighting" in Idlib, as well as "stopping the suffering for the civillian population".
When Russia and Turkey signed a previous de-escalation agreement in September 2018, both the M4 and M5 highways were set to be opened by the end of the year.
However, rebel groups opposed the opening of the roads and Syrian regime and Russian forces violated the deal in April 2019, launching a deadly assault against Idlib province.
Syria's conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced half of the population of Syria, many of them internally, since 2011. The Assad regime is responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties.
Under the new deal, the joint Russian-Turkish patrols will operate between the town of Tronba in Idlib and a village in Latakia province, which is a regime stronghold.
These patrols, which will mark the first time Russian and Turkish forces operate jointly in Idlib, are due to start on March 15.
It will be a key test for the agreement, analysts believe.
Several ceasefire deals have collapsed in the past and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to gain control of all of Syria.
Agencies contributed to this report.