syrian rebel
© AFP / Bakr Alkasem
A Syrian anti-government fighter near Idlib on February 20, 2020.
Syrian state media say "terrorists" have launched a major offensive in the province of Idlib. Some reports suggest "pro-Turkish" militants are also taking part as tensions between Ankara and Damascus mount.

Citing its reporter on the ground, SANA news agency said on Thursday that government troops forces have been repelling militant attacks towards the village of Al-Nayrab, southeast of Idlib. The community was liberated by Damascus earlier this month when the Syrian Army made gains in the areas controlled by pro-Turkish groups.

The anti-government forces are also pressing towards the city of Saraqib, an important road junction, which was also seized by the Syrian Army in early February, Anadolu reported. According to the outlet, intense clashes continued after the militants entered Al-Nayrab, destroying a Syrian tank and an APC, as well as capturing another tank.

The militants have been heavily supported by Turkish army artillery, the Russian defense ministry said. To avoid further breaches of the Syrian defense lines, Moscow launched airstrikes against the "terrorists." Earlier, reports and videos on social media also suggested that the militants in Idlib were aided by military hardware supplied by Ankara.

The latter had recently sent army units across the border, reinforcing its outposts in Idlib Province, which is adjacent to the Aleppo region. Turkish officials openly threatened to start a military operation in support of their proxies if the Syrian army continued advancing towards Idlib, the last-remaining major large stronghold controlled by anti-Damascus groups.

Renewed tensions around Idlib have caused a rift between Turkey and Syria's ally Russia, which strongly warned Ankara against attacking Syrian troops. The two countries set up a 'de-escalation zone' around Idlib, after which Turkey has been accusing Damascus of violating the ceasefire and shelling Turkish troops. Russia, meanwhile, insisted that the government forces only carry out attacks against terrorists, while Ankara had failed on its promise to clear the 'de-escalation zone' of jihadist groups.