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Turkey, Russia working on de-escalating conflict in Syria’s Idlib province: ministry

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Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart discussed by phone developments in Syria’s Idlib province and measures to reduce tension in the area, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

A renewed wave of violence in northwestern Syria has killed more than 120 civilians, rescue workers and civil defense officials say. The offensive by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russia, has uprooted more than 150,000 people in the biggest escalation in the war since last summer, the United Nations says.

On Monday rebels said they mounted a counterattack against government forces in northwestern Syria, where Idlib is located, ramping up battles in Syria’s last major insurgent stronghold.

A senior rebel commander said the latest offensive showed an array of rebel forces — from Turkey-backed rebels to jihadists — were still able to prevent the Russian-backed army assault from making any major territorial gains in the third week of heavy airstrikes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that the Syrian government was targeting Turkish-Russian cooperation in Idlib by violating the agreed ceasefire, a deal that had staved off a government offensive since September.

The rebels’ ability to withstand some of the heaviest airstrikes in over a year had strengthened Ankara’s hand in recent days where it has pushed Moscow to scale down the campaign, a senior opposition figure in touch with Turkish intelligence told Reuters.

Moscow had been exerting pressure on Ankara to start an operation against the opposition-held areas after Turkey’s failure to push rebels to agree to Russian patrols and get al-Qaeda-inspired militants out of a buffer zone that underpinned the Turkish-Russian deal.

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