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Turkey says Syria talks with Moscow continue despite clash

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By Euronews with AP
Screenshot - Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, people ride their motorcycles next to a Turkey Armed Forces convoy is seen at the northern town of Sarmada, in Idlib province, Syria.
Screenshot - Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, people ride their motorcycles next to a Turkey Armed Forces convoy is seen at the northern town of Sarmada, in Idlib province, Syria.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/APTN

Turkey's foreign minister says Ankara and Moscow are trying to keep peace efforts for Syria alive despite Syrian government advances and a deadly clash between Turkish and Syrian forces.

However, Mevlut Cavusoglu also renewed a call on Russia to "rein in " the Syrian government forces and reiterated Turkey's determination to retaliate against any future Syrian attack on its troops.

On Monday, Turkish artillery targeted Syrian government forces in northern Idlib province, responding to shelling that killed seven Turkish soldiers and a Turkish civilian.

A Syrian war monitor said 13 Syrian troops were also killed in the clash.

Rare direct clash

The exchange of fire in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, increased tensions between the two neighbouring countries and threatened to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey, which have sought to coordinate their actions in Syria.

``The Astana and Sochi peace processes have not been completely destroyed but have lately started to suffer and to lose importance, Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara, referring to Russian-Turkish peace initiatives that have also involved Iran.

Ankara 'holding its ground'

Cavusoglu, who held a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hours after the incident, added: "The regime's aggressiveness has to be stopped immediately. That was the message I gave Lavrov yesterday.``"

Cavusoglu dismissed claims by Russia that it cannot fully control the Syrian government and said the attack came despite a prior notification by Turkey of its troops' coordinates in Idlib.

"Turkey is attempting to hold its ground with Russia," Dareen Khalifa, a Senior Analyst at the International Crisis told Euronews.

"While Ankara is aware that the assistance they provide to rebels cannot possibly balance Russian air support to the regime, its support signals to Russia that Turkey can render a regime offensive very costly for everyone, Moscow included," Khalifa added.

Russia insisted that Turkey had failed to notify the Russian military about troop movements overnight.

Meanwhile, funerals were being held across Turkey for the Turkish servicemen that were killed.

The deaths were one of the highest single-day tolls for Turkish troops in Syria. Ankara has lost scores of military personnel in the Syrian war.

Last rebel-held territory

The incident comes amid a Syrian government offensive into the last rebel-held territory, located in Idlib and parts of the nearby Aleppo region. Turkish troops are deployed in some of those areas to monitor an earlier cease-fire that has since collapsed.

The province of Idlib is home to some 3 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria in earlier bouts of violence. The United Nations has estimated that about 390,000 Syrians have been displaced there over the past two months -- 315,000 in December and 75,000 in January.

Turkey already hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and the current wave of violence in Idlib has raised concerns of a new surge in displaced civilians fleeing toward the Turkish border.