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Syria's Idlib Remains Explosive After Deadly Attack on Turkish Troops

A Turkish military convoy is seen moving through eastern Idlib province, Syria, Feb. 28, 2020, a day after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in the province in an airstike by Syrian government forces.

The situation in Syria's rebel-controlled Idlib region remains explosive, following the killing there of more than 30 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike by Russia-backed Syrian government forces. Bracing against possible Turkish countermeasures, Russia is moving two warships toward the eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, NATO is urging Damascus to "respect international law," and cease airstrikes over civilian areas in Idlib. Turkey also has sent scores of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees to its border with Greece in an apparent effort to pressure the EU to support its position in the northern Syrian province.

NATO's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg offered the group's "condolences" to member state Turkey in a press conference Friday, after an urgent meeting requested by Ankara following the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. Stoltenberg stopped short, however, of offering any NATO military support to Ankara.

"We stated very clearly that we call on Russia and the [Syrian leader Bashar al-] Assad regime to stop the ... indiscriminate air attacks and also to engage and support U.N.-led efforts to find a lasting political, peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria," Stoltenberg said.

Arab media showed video of two Russian naval frigates equipped with Caliper missiles as they were crossing the Dardanelles, on their way to waters off Syria. At the same time, a Russian military delegation met with their Turkish counterparts in Ankara Friday to try to defuse tensions.

Russia claims that Turkish forces were working alongside "terrorist groups" in Idlib province when they were hit by a Syrian government airstrike. Turkey denies the claim. The Russian Foreign Ministry repeated Friday that "terrorist groups will not be tolerated" in Idlib.