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A convoy of Turkish M-60T tanks patrols in the town of Atareb in the rebel-held western countryside of Syria's Aleppo province on February 19, 2020. Turkey and Russia were engaged in a fresh war of words today after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened an "imminent" operation in Syria to end the regime's brutal assault on the last rebel enclave. It came as Syrian aid workers issued an urgent call for a ceasefire and international help for nearly a million people fleeing the regime onslaught in the country's northwestern Idlib province -- the biggest wave of displaced civilians in the nine-year conflict. / AFP / Aref TAMMAWI Image Credit: AFP

AZAZ, Syria/ANKARA: Russian warplanes struck at rebel-held towns in northwest Syria again on Thursday and Turkish artillery supported insurgent attacks elsewhere as officials from the two countries struggled to reach a compromise to halt an escalation in the Syrian war.

Residents and relief staff said Russian warplanes on Thursday resumed attacks on the towns of Darat Izza and Atareb in the northern corner of Aleppo province.

In Idlib province, Turkish artillery provided cover fire for renewed rebel attacks on Nairab and the strategic crossroads town of Saraqeb, according to rebels and residents.

In Geneva, the UN refugee chief called for a halt to the fighting to allow hundreds of thousands of trapped civilians to move to places of safety.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, called for a cessation of hostilities and appealed for urgent action to help those displaced.

“Thousands of innocent people cannot pay the price of a divided international community, whose inability to find a solution to this crisis is going to be a grave stain on our collective international conscience,” he said.

Grandi appealed to Turkey to let in more refugees and said international support for the civilians must be stepped up.

The Turkish official in Ankara said Turkey, Russia and Iran planned to meet in Tehran early next month to further discuss Syria, including the situation in Idlib.

A Russian delegation may come to Ankara before that, he said.

Syrian troops backed by Russian forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year-old civil war.

But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday threatened to launch a military operation against the government forces unless they pulled back, and Turkish troops and weaponry have already massed inside Syria.

Talks between Ankara, which supports some rebel factions, and Moscow to avert a wider war and a possible direct confrontation have struggled to make progress.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said there had been some rapprochement with Russia in the talks but they were still not at the desired levels.

Ankara and Moscow have accused each other of flouting a 2018 de-escalation agreement that allowed Turkey and Russia to set up observation posts in Idlib.

The Turkish official told Reuters the artillery bombardments did not signal Erdogan had launched a full-scale operation.