Syria's main transport artery, the M5 highway, links Damascus with Aleppo. Image: iStock

The Syrian government has agreed to a truce in the northwestern region of Idlib on the condition that a Turkish-Russian buffer-zone deal is implemented, state news agency SANA reported Thursday.

It cited a military source who announced the regime’s “approval for a ceasefire in the de-escalation zone in Idlib starting from tonight” on the condition that jihadists and rebels withdraw forces and weaponry from a buffer zone as per a September accord struck in the Russian resort of Sochi.

The announcement came as talks resumed in Kazakhstan between rebel backer Turkey and regime allies Russia and Iran.

Most of Idlib province and parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia – which currently hosts some three million residents – are controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by the Turkish-Russian deal, but it has come under increasing fire by Damascus and its backer Moscow since the end of April.

The government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has accused Turkey of dragging its feet in implementing the deal, which provided for a buffer zone up to 20 kilometers wide separating rebel and regime fighters.

Government forces and jihadists have also clashed on the edges of the buffer zone, with battles killing nearly 2,000 combatants, including more than 930 regime loyalists over the same period, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Hospitals, schools and markets have been hit in the fighting.

Moscow’s Syria envoy on Thursday welcomed the move by Damascus.

“Of course, we welcome the Syrian government’s decision to introduce a truce,” Alexander Lavrentyev was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency after the first day of peace talks in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and drawn in world powers since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

– Agence France-Presse

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