Reuters

Russia’s Defense Ministry has said in a statement that civilians could leave what it calls a de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib province via three new checkpoints.

The ministry said late on Jan. 12 it had received many requests from Syrian civilians in Idlib in areas controlled by armed groups to return to their homes in territory controlled by Syrian government forces.

The Russian military warned armed groups to allow people to leave Idlib if they wanted to.

Russia and its allies halted air strikes in Idlib on Jan. 12 as a ceasefire agreed with Turkey came into force, residents, rebels and respondents said, although few were optimistic the truce would hold.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Idlib province in recent weeks as Russian jets and Syrian artillery pounded towns and villages in a renewed government assault aimed at clearing the opposition from its last bastion in the northwest of the country.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said it was closely following ceasefire agreements in Idlib on Jan. 12, adding that the situation was calm “except for one or two separate incidents.”

Turkey, which for years has backed Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, said on Jan. 10 it had agreed the ceasefire with Russia to stem the flow of tens of thousands of civilians uprooted by the violence.

The latest offensive had brought the Russian-led military campaign closer to heavily crowded parts of Idlib province, where nearly three million people are trapped, the vast majority women and children, according to the United Nations.

Senior U.N. officials said this month that the humanitarian situation had become more acute with at least 300,000 civilians now on the run in Idlib, adding to the more than half a million people who fled earlier bouts of fighting to the safety of camps near the Turkish border.

Moscow says its forces, along with the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside them, are fending off terror attacks by al Qaeda militants whom they say hit populated, government-held areas.