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Five Turkish soldiers were killed and five others were wounded on Monday as a result of "intense" shelling by Syrian government forces in Syria's northern Idlib province, according to the Turkish defence ministry.

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The ministry statement said Turkish artillery immediately responded to the attack, destroying targets.

Turkey has sent major reinforcements to Syria's northwestern Idlib region where the attack occurred, as Ankara tries to stem rapid advances by Syrian government forces.

A rebel commander said the insurgents launched a military operation on Monday against the Syrian army near Saraqeb with the help of Turkish artillery, with witnesses also reporting Turkish shelling of Syrian military positions in the region.

“Saraqeb is a town on the highway between Syrian capital Damascus and [the Syrian economic hub] Aleppo. Syria government troops took it last week. Todays attack was obviously an attempt by pro-Turkish forces to reverse that gain,” said FRANCE 24s Jasper Mortimer, reporting from Ankara.

Observation posts under Astana accords

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and the nearby Aleppo countryside, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis with some 600,000 people fleeing from their homes towards safer areas near the border with Turkey.

Most of the displaced are living in open-air shelters and temporary homes in freezing winter conditions close to the border. Half of the displaced are believed to be children.

The fighting led to the collapse of a fragile cease-fire that was brokered between Turkey, Russia and Iran under the 2018 Astana accords. Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in the Syrian war: Turkey supports the Syrian rebels, while Russia has heavily backed the Syrian government's offensive.

"Turkey is running 12 observation posts that were set up with Russia and Iranian approval under the Astana accord with the purpose of quietening the fighting in that province between the rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad and Assads own forces. For a time, these observation posts did succeed in quietening the civil war in that province. But in the last few months Assad's forces have launched an attack to drive the rebels out of Idlib," explained Mortimer.

Russian delegation in Ankara for talks

The latest attack came as a Russian delegation arrived in the Turkish capital of Ankara for a second round of talks to discuss the rising tensions in Idlib.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkish and Russian delegations exchanged proposals over the situation in Idlib during a first meeting in Ankara on Saturday. On Monday, the Russian team returned to Ankara from a visit to Jordan, for furtheRead More – Source