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MOSCOW – The leaders of Russia and Turkey on Monday announced that a deep demilitarized zone will be established in Syria's Idlib region, the last bastion of anti-government rebels where fears had been high of a devastating offensive by government forces.
The zone will be established by Oct. 15 and be 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) deep, President Vladimir Putin said at the end of a more than three-hour meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"I believe that with this agreement we prevented a humanitarian crisis in Idlib," Erdogan said at a joint briefing with Putin in Sochi.
The province of Idlib in the country's northwest is the last stronghold of Syrian rebels, and Turkey has been eager to prevent a government assault.
Russia has called Idlib a hotbed of terrorism and had said the Syrian government has the right to retake control of it. Turkey appealed to Russia and Iran, its uneasy negotiating partners, for a diplomatic resolution. At the same time, it has sent reinforcements to its troops ringing Idlib, a move designed to ward off a ground assault, at least for now.
Asked whether Syrian President Bashar al-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."
Putin said the demilitarized zone would be enforced by patrols of Turkish forces and Russian military police.
It was quiet in Idlib and surrounding areas Monday, a continuation of the calm that started less than a week ago amid Russia-Turkey talks.
Idlib and surrounding areas is home to more than 3 million Syrians, and an estimated 60,000 rebel fighters.
Neyran Elden in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.