Russian Federation and Turkey to create Syria buffer

Syrian engineers begin building underground hospitals

Erdogan was due to hold talks in Russian Federation later on Monday with President Vladimir Putin, whose military support for the Syrian government has helped reverse years of rebel gains and who publicly rebuffed Turkey's ceasefire call 10 days ago.

The Russian president said the 15-20km (9.3-12.4 miles) wide safe zone will be created in the northwest Syrian province by 15 October.

Putin, speaking after talks with Erdoğan at his presidential residence in the coastal city of Sochi, said the agreement was that all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone, and that "radically-minded" groups, including the Nusra front, would have to pull out of the zone.

Turkey tries to maintain a foothold in Idlib, which is home to an estimated three million Syrian people, in an alleged attempt to play a role in shaping Syria's post-war politics and rebuilding its shattered economy.

Erdogan said both his country and Russian Federation would carry out coordinated patrols in the de-militarised zone, and reiterated that the biggest threat to Turkey was the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), who control swathes of territory in northeast Syria.

Turkey, the United Nations and aid groups have warned that a generalised assault by Russian and Syrian forces backing Bashar al-Assad against what remains of the uprising against him will lead to a mass displacement of as many as 800,000 refugees over the border into an already overwhelmed Turkey.

Turkey fears that a large-scale assault on Idlib, which lies on its southern border, could trigger a massive flow of refugees onto its soil.

"We will prevent a humanitarian tragedy which could happen as a result of military action", Erdoğan said after the talks.

The agreement, to be jointly monitored by Turkish and Russian forces, will be seen as a sign of Erdoğan's influence over Putin, and is a huge advance over a trilateral summit held two weeks ago Tehran when Erdoğan and Putin clashed in public over the feasibility of a ceasefire.

Reports on Monday said Turkey has recently sent its largest contingent of reinforcements to Idlib in weeks. The zone will be patrolled by Turkish and Russian military units.

Asked whether Syrian President Bashar Assad's government agreed with the Putin-Erdogan plan, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters in Sochi that "in the coming hours, we will agree with them on all the positions put forth in this document".

And by the end of the year transportation routes between Latakia and Aleppo, and Latakia and Hama must be restored, he said. Millions "of civilians in Idlib are in peace", he tweeted.

"The opposition will remain in areas in which they are already present".

Erdoğan said Syrian Kurdish fighters in the YPG east of the Euphrates river posed the biggest threat for Syria's future.

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