Russia says rebel positions in Syria's Idlib have merged with Turkish army posts

A still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters and shot on March 2, 2020, shows Syrian army soldiers firing a weapon as they advance on the town of Kfar Nabl, Syria. Reuters TV/via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday that fortified rebel positions in Syria’s Idlib province had merged with Turkish observation posts, and that artillery attacks on nearby civilian areas and Russia’s air base in Syria had become daily.

The allegations, made by Major-General Igor Konashenkov, are likely to increase tensions ahead of a planned meeting on Syria in Moscow on Thursday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.

Ties between Moscow and Ankara have come under severe strain in recent days since 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib, the deadliest attack on the Turkish army in nearly 30 years.

Turkey has responded by stepping up its attacks on Syrian government forces, while Russian military police have helped to secure a strategic town that Syrian government forces recaptured from rebels they are trying to oust from Idlib.

Moscow has long backed President Bashar al-Assad in his nine-year-old war against rebels.

Konashenkov, in his statement, accused Turkey of failing to meet its obligations under agreements on Idlib with Moscow, and of helping anti-Assad rebel forces instead.

He said Turkey had poured enough troops into Idlib to make up a mechanized division, said Konashenkov, violating international law.

There was no immediate response from Turkey, which has traded blame with Moscow over the upsurge in violence in Idlib.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Kevin Liffey