Four Turkish troops, six Syrian soldiers killed in Idlib province

ANKARA, TURKEY (AP) — Turkey hit targets in northern Syria, responding to shelling by Syrian government forces that killed at least four Turkish soldiers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday.

A Syrian war monitor said six Syrian troops were also killed.

The exchange, which came hours after a large Turkish military convoy entered the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, is likely to further increase tensions between the two neighbouring countries as such direct clashes have been rare.

Earlier, Turkey’s National Defence Ministry said the Turkish forces were sent to Idlib as reinforcement and were attacked there despite prior notification of their coordinates to the local authorities.

It said Turkish forces responded to the attack, destroying targets. Along with four killed, nine Turkish troops were wounded.

People ride their motorcycles next to a Turkey Armed Forces convoy at the northern town of Sarmada, in Idlib province, Syria. PHOTO: AP

Speaking to reporters before departing for a visit to Ukraine, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish artillery hit some 46 targets. Erdogan said Turkish warplanes were also involved and claimed that there were between 30 and 35 casualties on the Syrian side but offered no evidence.

“Those who test Turkey’s determination with such vile attacks will understand their mistake,” Erdogan said. He said Russia was told that Ankara would not stand for any “situation where we are prevented” from responding to Syrian assaults. “It is not possible for us to remain silent when our soldiers are being martyred,” Erdogan said.

The exchange occurred near the Syrian flashpoint town of Saraqeb, according to the Britain-based war monitoring group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It comes amid a Syrian government offensive into the country’s last rebel stronghold, located in Idlib and parts of the nearby Aleppo region. Turkish troops are deployed in some of those rebel-held areas to monitor an earlier cease-fire that was agreed to but that has since collapsed.

Relations between Turkey and Syria have deteriorated sharply since Syria’s civil war began in 2011. Syria accuses Turkey of undermining its security by allowing thousands of foreign fighters to come battle the Syrian army.

Idlib province is currently dominated by al-Qaeda-linked militants. With Russian backing, the Syria government has been on the offensive since December 2019 to capture and reopen a strategic highway held by the rebels since 2012.