Russia accuses Turkey of violating Syria deal as regime strike kills 34 Turkish troops
The Russian defence ministry on Thursday accused Turkey of violating a peace deal for Syria's Idlib by supporting rebels with artillery fire and drones, as 34 Turkish troops were killed in a regime strike amidst a sharp escalation of violence.
"In violation of the Sochi agreements in the Idlib de-escalation zone the Turkish side is continuing to support illegal armed groups with artillery fire and the use" of drones to target the Syrian troops, the ministry said, quoting the head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria, Oleg Zhuravlev.
The ministry added that on Tuesday a Turkish drone violated Syria's borders but was destroyed as it prepared to strike Syrian troops.
Russia and Turkey in 2018 agreed to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib but the accord has fallen apart as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces move to recapture the last big region beyond his control.
The epicentre of the nearly nine-year long conflict in Syria, Idlib has in recent weeks become the theatre of conflict between Turkey, which supports rebel groups in the area, and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Russia.
This comes as at least 34 Turkish troops were killed by Syrian regime strikes in Idlib as fighting continues in the area.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Syrian regime forces to pull back from positions were Turkey has set up military observation posts and has threatened to attack government forces if they do not stop their advance.
The airstrike is one of the deadliest in recent months to have hit Turkish forces in Syria.
Syrian rebels on Thursday recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb in Idlib province from the Syrian regime, after support from Turkish forces.
The town, which has been a stronghold of opposition to the Assad regime since 2011, lies on the junction of the M5 highway, linking Aleppo to Damascus, and the M4 highway, running between Latakia and Aleppo.
Hundreds of people have been killed and over 950,000 displaced as a result of the regime's current assault on Idlib province, which began last November.
Before the rebel capture of Saraqeb, the regime had managed to capture the entire length of the M5 highway, which is believed to be the key aim of its assault.
Frosty ties between Ankara and Moscow
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday there was no agreement yet for the leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany to hold a summit over the escalating violence in northern Syria.
The Kremlin indicated a two-way meeting between Turkey's Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin was also not on the cards.
Erdogan on Saturday had announced he would hold a four-party summit with Putin, France's Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 5 March.
But he told reporters Tuesday in a televised press conference before travelling to Azerbaijan "there is no full agreement" on holding the meeting.
Read More: As Syria's economy collapses, how much more can people bear?
Russia and Turkey have over the last years been working in close coordination to end the conflict in Syria but strains have soared in recent weeks over the escalating violence in the Syrian province of Idlib.
The tensions are seen as the biggest threat to Ankara-Moscow ties since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November 2015.
In Moscow, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that a bilateral meeting between Erdogan and the Russian leader was planned.
"We are not talking about bilateral contacts. But the possibility of a meeting in a multilateral format is being worked out," he told reporters.
"For now, no decision has been taken, as not all the potential participants have given their agreement," he added