TURKEY has said it hit back at Syrian government forces after “intense” shelling killed five of its soldiers and wounded five others in the northern Idlib province.

Fighting in Idlib led to the collapse of a fragile ceasefire that was brokered by Turkey and Russia in 2018.

Turkey supports the Syrian rebels, while Russia has heavily backed the Syrian government’s campaign to retake the area, the last rebel stronghold in Syria.

The exchange of fire came as a Russian delegation arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara for a second round of talks to discuss the fighting in neighbouring Syria.

Eight Turkish military and civilian personnel and 13 Syrian soldiers were killed in a similar clash in the province last week.

A Turkish defence ministry statement said his country’s artillery responded immediately to the attack, destroying targets.

“Our fire support vehicles immediately fired on the targets with intensity and the necessary response was given,” the ministry said.

Opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory reported that six Turkish soldiers were killed and seven were wounded when Syrian government forces shelled the Taftanaz air base in Idlib.

It added that four Syrian rebels were also killed in the shelling.

An air strike in a nearby rebel-held region, meanwhile, killed nine people including children, opposition activists said.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and the nearby Aleppo area, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis.