Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Russia sent two warships to the Middle East on Friday after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in an attack in Syria's heavily disputed northwest, fearing an escalating conflict.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Turkish forces in Idlib province came under fire by Syrian government forces. Russia, which militarily supports the Syrian government, blamed Turkey for the soldiers' deaths -- saying they were in the area near "terrorist formations."
Turkey, a NATO ally, has called on the United States and other members of the alliance to help protect troops and enforce a no-fly zone in Idlib province, where government forces and rebels have fought for months. NATO so far has declined to intervene.
"[Turkey and Russia] agreed to intensify relevant inter-agency consultations and explore the possibility of holding a top-level meeting in the immediate future," Russian officials said, adding that they "voiced grave concern over the escalation of tensions in Idlib resulting in loss of life."
Turkey has supported opposition forces in Syria's nine-year civil war, while government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are backed by Russia and Iran. Idlib, thought to be the last significant rebel stronghold, has come under constant attack by Assad's forces.
An effort by Russia and Turkey to turn Idlib into a safe zone for civilians has all but crumbled in recent weeks, as Syria has increased attacks there. A United Nations report this week said more than 948,000 civilians have been displaced in Idlib province since December.