February 20, 2020 / 2:30 PM / 6 months ago

Russia accuses Turkey of shelling Syrian army to help militants

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia accused Turkey on Thursday of providing artillery support to militants fighting the Syrian army and said militants briefly broke through Syrian military positions in Idlib, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia’s air force carried out strikes on pro-Turkish militants who burst through Syrian government positions in two areas of Idlib province, allowing the Syrian army to repel the attacks, the ministry was cited as saying.

“The actions of the militants were supported by artillery fire from the Turkish armed forces, which allowed the terrorists to break through the defense of the Syrian army,” the Russian defense ministry was quoted as saying.

The Turkish artillery fire wounded four Syrian soldiers, it said.

The accusations add to mounting tensions between Turkey, Syria and its ally Russia over the conflict in Idlib province, the last remaining rebel bastion in Syria’s nine-year-civil war where government forces are mounting an offensive.

The offensive has prompted thousands of civilians to flee and Turkey has demanded a ceasefire and told Syrian government forces to pull back.

“So as not to allow the armed groups to make it deep into Syrian territory, Russian Su-25 aircraft carried out a strike... on the armed militant groups that burst through,” it said.

“This allowed Syrian armed forces to successfully repel all the attacks,” it said, adding that its warplanes had destroyed one tank, 6 armored vehicles and five trucks equipped with large-caliber machine gun.

The Russian ministry’s comments were reported by the RIA, Interfax and TASS news agencies.

Reporting by Polina Ivanova; writing by Tom Balmforth

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