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Turkey threatens more 'decisive' action in Idlib as Nato calls for Assad to halt offensive

Tensions mount between Ankara and Moscow after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib
The Russian Navy's frigate Admiral Makarov sail through the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey on 28 February (Reuters)
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin that "every Syrian government unit" was a legitimate target for Ankara in a call on Friday, as Bashar al-Assad's forces continue to target Turkish soldiers in northwestern Syria. 

The conversation took place as tensions between Russia and Turkey continue to escalate after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed on Thursday inside Syria. 

Erdogan told Putin that attacks on its soldiers had "made Ankara more decisive" regarding its stance on Idlib and the looming humanitarian crisis as pro-Assad forces fight Turkish-backed rebel groups. 

Ankara blamed the death of at least 33 Turkish soldiers on Thursday on an air strike carried out by Syrian forces loyal to Assad, who is backed by Russia.

However, Russia's defence ministry was cited by the RIA news agency on Friday as saying that the Turkish troops had been hit by artillery fire from Syrian government forces who were trying to repel an offensive by Turkish-backed rebel forces.

In response to the Turkish troop deaths, Ankara said it would open its border with Idlib province to Syrian refugees intending to head to Europe via Turkey. 

Meanwhile, Russia sent two warships equipped with cruise missiles to the Mediterranean Sea towards the Syrian coast, the Interfax news agency cited Russia's Black Sea fleet as saying on Friday.

Pictures posted online showed Russian military reinforcements heading to Syria via the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey. 

Separately, Russia's Black Sea fleet was cited by the Interfax news agency on Friday saying it was sending two warships equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles to waters off the Syria coast. 

Nato calls for halt of Idlib offensive

Meanwhile Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday called on Russia and Syria to halt their offensive in Idlib, stating after a meeting of the alliance's ambassadors that Nato stood in solidarity with Turkey. 

"We call on Russia and the Syria regime to stop the attacks, to stop the indiscriminate air attacks ... we also call on Russia and Syria to fully respect the international law," Stoltenberg told a news conference.

"We call on Syria and Russia to fully engage in UN-led efforts to find a peaceful solution for the conflict in Syria."

The emergency Nato meeting in Brussels was convened at Turkey's request to hold consultations about developments in Syria. 

Under Article 4 of Nato’s founding Washington Treaty, any ally can request consultations whenever, in their opinion, their territorial integrity, political independence or security are threatened.

AFP and Reuters contributed to this report.