Dozens of Turkish troops have been killed in Syrian government air raids, marking a dramatic escalation in the conflict between Ankara and Moscow-backed forces in northwestern Syria .
The deaths followed an attack late on Thursday and comes as Syrian government forces, backed by russian air power, are attempting to seize the last remaining territory held by Syrian opposition forces who are backed by Turkey.
Turkey-backed fighters recapture key town in Syria’s Idlib
The toll is the deadliest suffered by the Turkish army since it intervened in Syria in 2020 and is raising fears of a direct confrontation between Turkey and Russia on the battlefield.
Here’s all the latest updates:
: GMT – Putin, Erdogan ‘voice concern’ over Idlib
A statement from the Kremlin says the Russian and Turkish presidents, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, voiced “concern about the escalation of tension in Idlib” following the deaths of Turkish soldiers.
The statement provides additional details of the phone call between the two leaders earlier today.
The conversation took place on Turkey’s initiative, the Kremlin says, adding: “Both sides reaffirmed that it was necessary to adopt additional measures in order to normalize the situation in northwestern Syria.”
: (GMT – White Helmet rescuer describes ‘disastrous situation in Idlib’)
Abdulla Hussein, a rescue worker with the Syrian White Helmets, says Syrian government air raids on Idlib’s second largest city – Maaret al-Numan – are so severe his colleagues and medical relief groups are not able to access the area.
“The situation is Idlib is disastrous in every meaning of the word. The people there are running out of options. The Syrian government shelling, backed by Russian warplanes, has targeted even the main roads that the residents are using to flee different towns and villages, “he tells Al Jazeera in Reyhanli, southern Turkey.
“The last two days, with the advancement of Syrian forces towards Mount Zawiya area [highland area that includes Maaret al-Numan], residents there have left their villages and towns. Our teams and medical relief groups can’t even access the area due to the severity of the aerial bombardment there. “
: GMT – NATO calls on Russia, Syria to ‘stop indiscriminate attacks’
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, is calling on Russia and Syria to stop the offensive in Idlib and to “fully engage in UN-led efforts for a peaceful political solution” to the conflict. .
“We call on Russia and the Syria regime to stop the attacks, to stop the indiscriminate air attacks … we also call on Russia and Syria to fully respect the international law,” Stoltenberg tells reporters in Brussels, the capital of Belgium.
“This dangerous situation must be de-escalated.”
# NATO has just met in solidarity with our Ally Turkey, following the death of Turkish soldiers near Idlib. We condemn the indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime & Russia. This dangerous situation must be de-escalated & humanitarian access allowed: https://t.co/ TxBqHO5NVF pic.twitter.com / XCatlnyB9k – Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) February 31, : (GMT – Erdogan, Putin discuss Idlib in telephone call)
The Turkish and Russian presidents discussed the situation in Idlib in a phone call, Interfax news agency says, quoting the Russian foreign minister.
“The conversation was detailed and focused on the need to fulfill the original agreements pertaining to the Idlib de-escalation area,” says Sergei Lavrov, adding that the two leaders are also looking into the possibility of a meeting in the near future.