Iran is ready to help Turkey and Syria resolve their differences over the nearly nine-year-old war in Syria, the Foreign Ministry said on Feb. 8, adding that Tehran backs the sovereignty of its key regional ally Damascus.

Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Iran and Russia have supported Assad’s forces in the war. The three countries have also collaborated on a political solution to the conflict.

In a meeting between the visiting United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, and Iranian officials, Tehran underlined the importance of resolving issues in Syria through diplomacy, it said on its website.

“During the meeting, Iran reiterated that civilians in Syria should not be used as human shields … and that Iran is ready to mediate between Turkey and Syria to solve the issue,” the website reported.

Iranian state TV reported that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a separate meeting with Pedersen in Tehran, said Iran was prepared to help in the de-escalation of the crisis in Syria with respect to Syria’s independence and sovereignty.

Russian-backed Syrian forces have tried to capture Syria’s Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in the country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to drive back the Syrian troops in Idlib unless they withdrew by the end of the month, after eight Turkish soldiers were killed on Feb. 3 by Syrian government shelling near the town of Saraqeb.

Turkey reinforces troops in Idlib, talks with Russia

Turkey on Feb. 8 reinforced its military presence in Idlib as Turkish and Russian officials held talks about the Syrian government offensive there.

Turkey says the advances by Russian-backed Syrian troops and their allies threaten a fresh humanitarian disaster, driving another wave of potential refugees to its southern border, and has threatened to act if they do not pull back.

Witnesses at the border said convoys of Turkish military vehicles had been crossing into Idlib since Feb. 7, delivering supplies before turning back to return with more.

The beefing up of Turkish forces has failed to stem the advance by Syrian government forces, which took control of a strategic town close to the provincial capital and also made gains to the east of Idlib.

In Ankara, officials from Turkey and Russia held three hours of apparently inconclusive talks, agreeing to meet again next week. The two countries support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year civil war, but have forged a series of agreements since 2017 aimed at containing the bloodshed.

“The situation in Idlib was discussed,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said after the talks. “Steps that could be taken to establish peace on the ground as soon as possible and advance the political process were evaluated.”

Turkish and Russian delegations are seen in a meeting in Ankara on Feb 8.

“Our checkpoints in Idlib continue their duties as usual and are capable of protecting themselves,” Turkey’s Defense Ministry said, adding they would respond to any new attack “in the harshest manner in accordance with legitimate defense.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said on Feb. 8 that 430 Turkish military vehicles had crossed into Idlib in the last 24 hours.

Turkish forces were setting up a new post at Al-Mastoumah, on the southern approach to Idlib city, the Observatory said.

Syrian state TV broadcast live on Feb. 8 from the strategic town of Saraqeb, located at the junction of the two main highways in Idlib that Assad seeks full control of, and lies less than 10 miles (15 km) southeast of Idlib city.

It said the army had taken full control over the town.

The military media unit of the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which supports Assad, said it had also taken control of Syrian government force had also taken the town of Al-Eis east of Idlib, close to the main north-south highway leading to Aleppo.