Turkey raises death toll to 33 troops in Syrian airstrike

ANKARA, TURKEY (AP) — Turkey yesterday raised the death toll from a Syrian government airstrike on its forces in northwestern Syria the previous night to 33 Turkish troops, the highest number of Turkish soldiers killed in a single day since Ankara first intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2016.

The deaths, which came in an attack on Thursday, were a serious escalation in the direct conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces that has been waged since early February. The earlier reported death toll was 29 troops.

Ambassadors from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries held emergency talks yesterday at the request of Turkey, a member of the alliance.

Governor of Turkey’s Hatay province, bordering Syria’s Idlib region, Rhami Dogan said 32 wounded troops were being treated in hospitals. Turkey had 54 soldiers killed in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province since the beginning of February, including the latest fatalities.

Turkey is a main backer of the Syrian opposition while Russia has been giving military support to the weeks long Syrian government offensive in Idlib that has displaced about 950,000 people and left hundreds of civilians dead.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said yesterday the Turkish troops that came under fire in Idlib were deployed among “terrorist battle formations”.

The Turkish troops were in the area of Behun, and according to coordinates given to Russia’s Reconciliation Center in Syria, “there were no Turkish military units in the area… and there weren’t supposed to be”.

Russian air forces did not carry out airstrikes in the area, the statement read, and after receiving information about Turkish casualties, “the Russian side took all the necessary measures in order for the Syrian forces to stop the fire,” it said.

Syrian rebels enter the town of Saraqeb, in Idlib province, Syria. PHOTO: AP