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Turkey and Russia on a collision course in Idlib

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Turkish backed Syrian fighters prepare to go to a frontline near the village of Neirab, in Idlib province, Syria, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)
Turkish backed Syrian fighters prepare to go to a frontline near the village of Neirab, in Idlib province, Syria, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)   -   Copyright  ASSOCIATED PRESS   -   Ghaith Alsayed
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Syria's Idlib province is seeing a spike in hostilities as Turkey says it won't take "the smallest step back" in its bid to push Russia-backed government troops away from Turkish outposts in the region.

The rising tensions have put Ankara and Moscow on a collision course -- and left millions of civilians in the crossfire.

The bombing has been relentless for three months now. Syria's northwestern Idlib province has been pummelled by President Bashar Assad's forces as he tries to recapture the territory.

But in the last 48 hours, the fighting has intensified. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the shelling has hit schools and hospitals, killing dozens of civilians - among them children.

'Four million people with no future'

The regime's fierce military campaign backed by Russia has sent nearly a million people fleeing from their homes in freezing temperatures.

"They burn their clothes to warm their kids in other words Idlib is about to be the most catastrophic humanitarian situation in history," says Ishmael Alabdullah, a volunteer with the White Helmets.

"Four million people with no future, four million people going nowhere. Assad's forces and Russian forces are close and death is very close to them."

Turkey-Syria tensions

Turkey is backing the rebels and demanding that Assad's forces pull back behind a line of its observation posts by the weekend or he will force them "one way or another".

"We will not take even the smallest step back in Idlib, we will certainly push the regime outside the borders we designated, and ensure the return of the people to their homes," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

The observation posts were set up as part of the 2018 Sochi deal which agreed on a de-escalation zone near Turkey's border However that's failed to stop Assad's advancing forces.

As Turkish and Russian officials begin a third round of talks in Ankara aimed at reducing tensions in the region tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continue their own fight just to survive.