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New deadly clashes in Idlib

Syrian and Turkish forces exchanged fire on Monday in another deadly clash in northwest Syria, where nearly 700,000 people have fled escalating violence in the last major opposition bastion.

Turkey said it retaliated Monday after “intense” shelling by Syrian forces killed five of its soldiers and wounded five others in Syria’s northern Idlib province, a marked escalation a week after a similarly deadly clash between the two sides.

The exchange of fire came as a Russian delegation held a second round of talks in the Turkish capital of Ankara to discuss the fighting in Idlib province, which has uprooted more than a half-million people in the past two months. No statement was issued at the end of the talks.

The fighting led to the collapse of a fragile cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia in 2018. Turkey supports the Syrian rebels, while Russia heavily backs the Syrian government’s campaign to retake the area, which is the last rebel stronghold in Syria.

Rebel backer Turkey said five of its troops were killed by Syrian regime fire in Idlib province, and that it had “neutralised” 101 Syrian soldiers in response.

It was not possible to verify that claim and neither Syrian state media nor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, immediately reported casualties among Syrian army ranks.

The exchange was the second in eight days and took place in the area of Taftanaz, where Turkey recently sent in troops, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Regime shelling a week earlier killed eight Turkish soldiers, prompting a deadly response by the Turkish army.

The clashes are further straining relations between Damascus and Ankara, while also increasing tension between Russia and Turkey.

Violence in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo has displaced 689,000 people, said David Swanson, spokesman for the United Nation’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA.

Following the latest attack, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar immediately met for talks, Turkish broadcaster NTV reported.

A Russian delegation has been in Ankara for talks on Idlib since Saturday, with further meetings expected on Monday.

The two countries have worked closely together despite supporting opposing sides of the war.