Russian delegation to visit Turkey for talks on Syria's Idlib

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Russian military delegation will hold talks with Turkish officials in Ankara on Tuesday to discuss a deal which the two countries reached last week for a ceasefire in northwest Syria’s Idlib region, the Turkish Defence Ministry said on Monday.

The deal, reached in Moscow on March 5, was designed to contain a conflict which has displaced nearly a million people in three months and raised the risk of a military clash between Turkey and Russia.

Turkey said at the weekend that there had been no violations of the ceasefire. Operational details of the agreement are yet to be worked out.

Under the deal, they agreed to establish a secure corridor near the M4 highway, which runs east to west through Idlib. They said they would agree on the parameters of the corridor within seven days. Joint patrols there were to begin on March 15.

The corridor will stretch 6 km (about 4 miles) to the north and 6 km to the south of the M4. However, it was not clear what would happen to the pocket of rebels which it will create to the south of the highway.

Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, with Moscow supporting President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey backing some rebel groups. Several previous deals to end the fighting in Idlib have collapsed.

The latest offensive by Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air strikes, targeted the last rebel stronghold in the northwest region of Idlib and it sparked what the United Nations says may be the worst humanitarian crisis in the nine-year war.

Turkey, with the second largest army in NATO, has sent military equipment and thousands of troops into the region in recent weeks. President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday 59 Turkish soldiers had been killed in the conflict.

Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans