The Russian backed Syrian army entered Saraqeb in northwestern Idlib on Wednesday amid high tension with Turkey which has troops in the region.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a war monitor, announced that Syrian government forces encircled and entered the town 15 km east of Idlib city, following days of fighting between Turkey-backed insurgent groups.
In an effort to recapture the last rebel area, Syria and Russia have been targeting Idlib for months with aerial and ground bombardment.
Syrian state TV SANA said after controlling the area, the main roads were within the shooting range of the army.
Rebel fighters in the town had left, Reuters reported eyewitnesses as saying.
A January 12 ceasefire deal between Turkey and Russia did not work and the Syrian army’s shelling killed eight Turkish military personnel earlier this week. Ankara hit Syrian government forces in a counter-attack, killing at least 13 Syrian soldiers.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would drive back Syrian troops in Idlib unless they withdraw by the end of the month.
Ankara and Moscow are supporting opposite sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year war. Russia-backed Syrian army’s killing Turkish military personnel on Monday sparked debates on the two countries’ fragile cooperation in Syria.
“There is no need for us to be engaged in a conflict or a serious contradiction with Russia at this stage,” a cautious Erdogan reportedly said on Tuesday.
He added Turkey wants to resolve the differences with Russia over Idlib “without anger.”
The United States warned Russia on Wednesday over its latest attacks in Idlib, blaming Moscow for challenging Washington’s presence in northeastern Syria.
“We are very, very worried. This is a dangerous conflict. It needs to be brought to an end. Russia needs to change its policies,” said James Jeffrey, US special envoy for Syria engagement and fight against Islamic State.
The US government has decided to keep around 600 troops –not on the ground- in northeastern Syria to continue fighting against the Islamic State, following long debates in the Congress about a US pullout.
The United Nations Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the current situation in Idlib, after the US, France and the United Kingdom called for a meeting.
Nearly one million people have been displaced in recent months due to intense airstrikes and renewed fighting on the ground, according to the United Nations.