Trump, Turkish FM urge Russian Federation to ‘stop backing’ Syrian ‘atrocities’

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The flight carrying Syrian officials and journalists was an important symbol that President Bashar Assad's government, with Russian military support, has consolidated its control over the northwestern province of Aleppo and also seized the last segments of the strategic M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus. Earlier this month, 13 Turkish soldiers were killed as Syrian forces tried to reclaim the rebel-held stronghold.

The armed opposition is now squeezed into a shrinking area of nearby Idlib province, where the government is also on the offensive, as well as the sliver of adjacent territory in western Aleppo.

But the city, located just four miles off the Turkish border, was shelled in the past days, forcing many to flee again across hills, along muddy paths and in freezing temperature, he said.

Turkish officials have asked the United States to send two Patriot missile batteries to the southern province of Hatay to help protect its troops from Syrian or Russian airstrikes, according to Bloomberg News.

Turkey said two of its soldiers were killed and five others wounded in Syrian government air strikes in northwest Syria on Thursday, bringing Turkish military fatalities to 15 so far this month in the Idlib region.

He said the Kremlin intends to use its "working contacts" with Turkey to try to prevent further escalation.

"Turkey won't leave Idlib to the devices of the Assad regime". Several rounds of talks with Moscow had failed to reach an agreement, he said.

Throughout the Idlib standoff, Turkey and Russian Federation have kept channels of communication open in an effort to keep alive their uneasy partnership in Syria, where they are backing opposing sides.

Ankara sent in thousands of additional troops and armored vehicles in recent weeks, vowing to halt the government's advance.

Despite this and the remaining threat of U.S. sanctions against Turkey over the S-400 purchase, Akar said the system "would be activated... We have not reached the desired results as yet".

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At the same time, the Russian-Syrian success represents a considerable loss of political importance for Ankara in Syria: In the Sochi Agreement in September 2018 Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed on a "de-escalation zone" in Idlib.

"We are entering the last days for the (Syrian) regime to stop its hostility in Idlib".

Only hours earlier, Turkey refused a plan outlined by Russian Federation that included a map with a proposed relocation of Turkish troops in Syria's opposition-controlled Idlib province. In addition, 10 medical facilities and 19 educational facilities were either directly hit or affected by strikes close by, the United Nations office said.

The Syrian government's crushing military campaign against the rebel-held Idlib stronghold, backed by Russian Federation, has strained cooperation between Moscow and Ankara and led to direct clashes between Syrian and Turkish troops on several occasions in recent weeks. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 120 airstrikes on Tuesday alone. It wasn't immediately clear if Turkish troops were participating in the attack.

Turkey has asked the USA to conduct aerial patrols in its airspace bordering the Syrian province of Idlib, to show support for Ankara's ongoing military operations against forces loyal to Damascus, a Turkish official has told Middle East Eye.

"It is true that at the moment, there are differences in the (two sides') positions", Cavusoglu told state television TRT. "We never wanted it to come, we hoped it wouldn't come, and it's here", said Ambassador Robert Ford, who was forced to leave Syria amid threats from Assad when he served as USA envoy from 2011 to 2014. Russia, which has an air base in Syria, has controlled Idlib's air space for several years.

It came as Syrian aid workers issued an urgent call for a ceasefire and worldwide help for almost a million people fleeing the regime onslaught in the country's northwestern Idlib province - the biggest wave of displaced civilians in the nine-year conflict.

Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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