Turkish and Syrian soldiers killed in fighting as Ankara launches Idlib operation

Turkish and Syrian soldiers killed in fighting as Ankara launches Idlib operation
Two Turkish soldiers were killed by an air strike attributed to the Syrian regime, while Turkey claims its forces killed 'up to 50' regime soldiers in its Idlib operation.
2 min read
20 February, 2020
Turkish troops patrol the town of Atareb in Syria's Aleppo province on 19 February [Getty]
Turkey's defence ministry said on Thursday that two of its soldiers were killed and five wounded following an airstrike in Idlib province, northern Syria, where the Turkish military is carrying out operations to recapture territory from the Syrian regime.

The ministry added that as many as 50 Syrian regime fighters were killed, and that it destroyed five tanks, two armoured personnel carriers and a howitzer artillery launcher in Idlib.

Turkey's Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said the strikes on Turkish forces were carried out by the Syrian regime forces. However activists on the ground had earlier reported that the jet that carried out the strike was Russian. Analysts have also used maps and imaging techniques to claim the strike came from a Russian plane.

A deadly Russian strike on Turkish troops would carry major implications for the delicate relations between Ankara and Moscow.

Shortly after the incident, Moscow issued a statement urging Turkey to stop "supporting terrorists" in Syria, saying Russian planes had carried out air strikes against armed groups backed by Ankara.

"We urge the Turkish side, in order to avoid incidents, to cease support of the actions of terrorists and handing them arms," the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

The deaths bring the number of Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib to 15.

A ministry statement posted to Twitter on Thursday said Turkey's military is responding to the attack, thought to have hit Qaminas, near Idlib city.

Turkey on Thursday launched an operation into regime-held parts of Idlib province in order to recapture the strategic frontline towns of Nayrab and Saraqeb.

Footage on social media showed Turkish troops and the aligned Syrian rebel fighters launching mortar shelling campaigns and mobilising tanks and personnel to the frontlines.

Turkey has asked the US to provide Patriot air-defence missiles to deter Russia in Idlib, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. However Washington has refused Turkey's requests in the past, as it bought Russian-made S-400 missiles last year.

For several weeks Turkey has been amassing troops and equipment near Idlib’s border areas and issued threats of an offensive against the Russian-backed regime in order to repel its crushing advance into parts Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria, as well as the countryside of neighbouring Aleppo province.

The regime offensive has displaced almost 1 million people, exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in the province, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to sleep in the open despite the harsh winter conditions.

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