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In the news: Turkish, Russian leaders speak over Syria strikes

Analysts and humanitarian officials are revising their worst-case scenarios for Idlib.

Smoke rises after an airstrike in Saraqeb in Idlib province, Syria, on 28 February 2020.
Smoke rises after an air strike in Saraqeb in Idlib province, Syria, on 28 February 2020. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Friday after new hostilities in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

After an airstrike killed 33 Turkish soldiers and injured 32 more on Thursday, the Turkish military – which has long backed the Syrian opposition – claimed to be hitting back at “all known [Syrian] regime targets”, with Turkish state-affiliated media releasing imagery showing drone strikes on Syrian troops and weaponry.

“Serious concern was expressed about the escalation of tension in Idlib, resulting in numerous casualties, including among Turkish troops. The importance of increasing co-ordination through the ministries of defence of Russia and Turkey was emphasised,” the Kremlin said in a readout of Erdoğan and Putin’s call.

As President Bashar al-Assad’s forces continue their offensive to take back rebel-held territory in Syria, the UN has repeatedly called for a pause for talks and so that supplies can reach civilians in need. 

Almost one third of the Idlib region’s three million people have been displaced since the beginning of December, many of them women and children forced into makeshift camps near the Turkish border with little shelter.

At least 1,746 civilians, including 513 children and 338 women, were killed in northwestern Syria between 29 April 2019 – shortly after the last ceasefire collapsed – and 24 February 2020, the UN says. This includes at least 465 civilians killed since 1 December. 

For more, read TNH’s recent report on the situation in Idlib and the strained aid response.

– Andrew Gully

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