As the battle for Mosul enters its second month, thousands of Iraqis continue to flee ISIL.
Russian and Turkish jets have carried out joint air raids against ISIL fighters in the town of Al Bab in northern Syria, according to Russia’s military.
Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior defence ministry official, said on Wednesday that nine Russian and eight Turkish fighter jets had together struck targets in the town, located northeast of Aleppo.
“Today the Russian and Turkish air forces are conducting their first joint air operation to strike [ISIL] in the suburbs of Al Bab,” Rudskoi said.
“The assessment of the initial results … showed the strikes were highly effective.”
The joint operation, the closest cooperation between the two countries in Syria to date, marks a dramatic warming of ties between Turkey and Russia, once strained by the shooting down of a Russian jet by a Turkish warplane in 2015.
“Turkey and Russia signed a memorandum of de-confliction in Moscow at the end of last week,” Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said.
“They agreed to communicate when it comes to the aviation airspace, because the airspace above Syria is very busy with many different countries flying.”
The two countries have backed opposing sides in the nearly six-year Syrian conflict, but are now the main organisers of a new round of peace talks due to take place in Kazakhstan on January 23.
They have set aside their differences over the political fate of President Bashar al-Assad to try to forge a wider Syria deal.
Separately, US-led coalition jets also struck ISIL positions in Al Bab on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian.
“These strikes were the result of continued cooperation with Turkey, and we saw a window of opportunity where it was in our mutual interests to get those targets destroyed,” Dorrian said.
Turkey has previously criticised the United States for not helping it in its attempts to capture the area from ISIL, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Earlier this month, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, had hinted about cutting off US access to the Incirlik air base, in southeastern Turkey, if it did not support its fight against ISIL, also known as ISIS.
Turkey launched an anti-ISIL push in northern Syria in August after the group carried out multiple attacks targeting civilians security forces across the country.
Dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield, the offensive is composed of Turkish-trained Free Syrian Army (FSA) units backed by Turkish special forces, armoured divisions and fighter jets.
Despite early success in capturing territory from ISIL, such as in the towns of Jarablus and Azaz, the offensive has met stiff resistance in the town of al-Bab.
A number of forces, often rivals themselves, are fighting ISIL in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
In Iraq, Kurdish and Iraqi forces – backed by the US-led coalition – have succeeded in pushing the fighters out of most of the major cities it once held, but are facing determined resistance in Mosul, the group’s last urban stronghold in the country.
In Syria, the group managed to wrest the historic city of Palmyra from Syrian government control in December and this week made gains in the eastern city of Deir Az Zor.
ISIL captured most of the territory it now holds in Syria and Iraq after a series of rapid offensives starting in early 2014.
|Turkish forces helped the FSA capture territory from ISIL in northern Syria [EPA]|