Turkish forces storm protest camp on strategic Syrian highway
Turkish forces in Syria's Idlib province raided a protest camp on the M4 highway, Monday morning, after activists attempted to disrupt patrols along the strategically significant thoroughfare.
The protesters have been trying to prevent Russian vehicles - allied to Bashar Al-Assad - from passing along the road, which connects the regime-held cities of Aleppo and Latakia and cuts through rebel-held Idlib province.
Under a ceasefire deal reached by Ankara and Moscow in early March, Russian vehicles are permitted to patrol along the M4 road.
Videos published by Syrian activists on Twitter on Monday showed soldiers and police in Turkish uniforms confronting the protesters, who responded by throwing stones.
Activists said that the protesters were affiliated to the hardline Islamist group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).
The correspondent of The New Arab’s Arabic-language service said that the Turkish forces did not carry any lethal weapons when they confronted the activists.
The protesters began their sit-in on the M4 highway on 5 March to prevent joint patrols by Turkey and Russia on the road.
According to the Syrian news website Enab Baladi the Turkish forces stormed a forward position set up recently by the protesters within 200 metres of where Russian troops were due to patrol.
Enab Baladi said that negotiations were ongoing between protesters and Turkish troops despite the storming of the position.
Joint Russian-Turkish patrols were due to begin on 15 March but stalled due to the protests and threats from armed groups against the troops.
The Russian defence ministry previously accused "terrorist groups" of obstructing the patrols, saying that they had used civilians "as human shields" in the protests.
Moscow said that it was giving Turkey time to "eliminate the terrorists and create secure conditions to carry out patrols on the M4 road".
The protesters have allowed Turkish troops to patrol the road alone, but not in the company of Russian soldiers.
Turkey and Russia reached a ceasefire agreement last March following a bloody campaign by the Assad regime and Russia to capture territory in rebel-held Idlib province.
The assault left hundreds of people dead and displaced nearly a million civilians.
Many Syrian political and military opposition groups have opposed the protests, saying that they could give Russia and the regime an excuse to violate the ceasefire agreement.
The regime has violated the current ceasefire several times and along with Russia, broken numerous ceasefire and de-escalation agreements in the past.
Local sources told The New Arab’s Arabic service that regime artillery and rockets shelled areas around the town of Bara in southern Idlib province on Sunday evening, while regime aircraft flew over the area.
One civilian was killed when an unexploded bomb left behind from a previous regime bombardment blew up in Kafr Nouran in rebel-held western Aleppo province.
More than 500,000 civilians have been killed and millions more displaced in the Syrian conflict, which began in 2011 after the brutal suppression of protests against the Assad regime.