Members of Syria’s White Helmets search for victims on July 31 after a building in Ariha, in the southern sector of Idlib Province, collapsed days after a reported air strike. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian Rebels Launch Counter-attack in Idlib as Putin, Erdogan Meet

Syrian rebels have launched a major counter-attack against regime forces, which, backed by Russian air power and ground troops, have for five months been waging an offensive to recapture Idlib Province. The escalation comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Damascus’ primary backer. The two leaders reportedly agreed to “neutralize the terrorists’ nests in Idlib and normalize the situation there,” which is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. “We cannot accept the bombing [of] civilians and, unfortunately, targeting civilians strengthens radical elements,” Erdogan said following the meeting. “The situation has now risked the lives of Turkish soldiers in the area. We have the right to self-defense on our borders and we will take the necessary steps,” he added. Ankara fears the fighting will lead to a humanitarian crisis that will force some 4 million civilians in the cross hairs to seek refuge in Turkey, which is already home to over 3.5 million Syrian refugees. The tumult also comes as Turkey and the United States launched a joint operations center to create and monitor a “safe zone” aimed at preventing armed groups from operating close to the Syrian-Turkish border.

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