Syria War: 33 Turkish Soldiers killed in Idlib Attack
At least 33 Turkish soldiers have been killed in an air strike by Syrian government forces in North-West Syria, in a major escalation of the conflict. Turkey says it hit back by striking some 200 Syrian government targets, neutralizing 309 Syrian soldiers.
Russia, Syria’s key military ally, says Turkish troops were attacked in Idlib province by Syrian forces while operating alongside jihadist fighters. It denies its own air force was involved in fighting in the Behun area.
Government forces, supported by Russia, have been trying to retake Idlib from rebels who are backed by Turkey. The air strike came after the rebels retook the key town of Saraqeb. Idlib is the last Syrian province to remain in opposition hands.
Reports suggest Turkey, a key member of the Nato alliance, may be relaxing its border controls to allow Syrian refugees to seek refuge in the EU.
According to the governor of Turkey’s neighboring Hatay province, Rahmi Dogan, who said ‘thirty-three of our soldiers were martyred as a result of the air strike… by the forces of the [Bashar al-] Assad regime’.Those wounded were being treated in hospital in Turkey but none were in a critical condition, he added.
After President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held an urgent top-level security meeting in Ankara, Turkish forces began conducting ground and air strikes.
Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar said that in addition to the casualties inflicted, five Syrian government helicopters, 23 tanks, 23 howitzers, and two air defence systems had been destroyed. According to the Russian Defence ministry, the Turkish soldiers had been killed in a “bombardment” while operating alongside “terrorists” in the Behun area where, it said, fighters from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance (formerly the Nusra Front) were attacking Syrian government forces.
Russia said it was in constant contact with Turkey to ensure Turkish troops were not targeted in Idlib and had not been informed that Turkish forces were active at Behun.
But Mr Akar insisted the Russians had been informed about the locations of Turkish troops and said no armed groups had been present near the soldiers who were attacked. He also said ambulances had been hit in the attack.
An unconfirmed Russian media report says two Russian warships equipped with cruise missiles are being sent towards the Syrian coast.