Russia, Turkey shorten first Syria patrol

Turkish and Russian troops have begun joint patrols along the M4 highway in Syria

Russia and Turkey have begun joint patrols along the key highway which dissects Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held region, but officials in Moscow say the patrol was cut short following a "provocation" by Ankara-backed rebels.

The first Russian-Turkish patrol took place along the M4 east-west highway on Sunday, both country's defence ministries confirmed.

In a statement, the Russian Defence Ministry accused the rebels of trying to use civilians, among them women and children, as "human shields".

Turkey's Defence Ministry made no mention of any incident.

The first armoured vehicles reportedly set out from near Trumba, a settlement 2km to the west of the strategically important city of Saraqib, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia and Turkey, each backing opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, agreed to a ceasefire earlier this month, establishing a secure corridor along the M4 highway running through the last of the country's remaining rebel-held territory.

The two countries also agreed on "joint co-ordination centres" to monitor the ceasefire, which appears to be holding in most places in the Idlib province in northwestern Syria.

Sunday is the ninth anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian war.

On March 15, 2011, mass protests against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reached the capital Damascus and Aleppo in the north.

Syria's crisis soon developed into an all-out war involving multiple sides.