Syrian army troops seized a pocket of territory in the northwest where they had encircled rebels and advanced on a Turkish military post on Friday, reclaiming towns they lost early in the war.
Government forces have pounded the south of Idlib province and nearby Hama with air and ground attacks this week, pressing an offensive that has prompted a new exodus. The escalation since late April has killed hundreds of people.
Friday’s advance ends opposition presence in Hama, dealing yet another blow to insurgents who have suffered a string of crushing defeats across Syria. The northwest corner is all that remains in rebel hands after more than eight years of war.
Rebel officials did not respond to requests for comment.
President Bashar al-Assad turned to Idlib after shoring up his rule in most of Syria with Russia and Iran’s help. Still, the prospect of more advances is obstructed not only by Turkey’s interests further north near its border but also US forces alongside Kurdish fighters in the northeast.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Friday that Syrian army attacks were causing a humanitarian crisis and threatening Turkey’s national security.
In a phone call, Erdogan said that attacks by government forces violated a ceasefire in Idlib and damaged efforts for a solution in Syria, the Turkish presidency said.
The latest army gains have put Turkish troops in Idlib in the firing line and threaten Ankara’s hopes of preventing a new wave of refugees on its border.
Many of the 500,000 people uprooted by the fighting have fled towards the Turkish border.