35 Turkish soldiers killed in battle for ISIS-held town

The fierce fighting erupted as Turkish officials said the army was entering into a key phase in the fight for Al-Bab in Syria

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Turkey's defense minister says a total of 35 Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with ISIS militants in Syria on Wednesday in the military’s highest single day toll of its four-month campaign inside the country.

The fighting came as Turkey and allied pro-Ankara Syria rebels faced increasing resistance from the extremists in a battle to take a key town ISIS-held town of Al-Bab, 25 kilometers from the Turkish border.

The toll, the heaviest single day loss for the Turkish army in its Syria operation that started in August, came in fighting with militants that included three suicide car bomb attacks, the army said in a statement quoted by Turkish media.

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Four soldiers were killed in attacks earlier in the day, the army had previously announced. The other 10 were killed later Wednesday. Six of the 33 wounded were said to be in a serious condition.

The fierce fighting erupted as Turkish officials said the army was entering into a key phase in the fight for Al-Bab. The town has become the main target of the army’s campaign inside Syria, in support of the pro-Ankara Syrian rebels opposed both to the militants and President Bashar al-Assad, that started on August 24.

The army said the clashes erupted around a weapons depot that had been used by ISIS for the last two years. It said that 138 ISIS jihadists were killed in the fighting. The army’s toll for the extremists could not be verified independently.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged there had been “martyrs” in the fighting, at an earlier news conference before the toll was announced, but expressed confidence that Al-Bab would be taken from ISIS.

“Al Bab has been completely besieged by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and our soldiers,” he said. He expressed hope that the town “would fall entirely sooner or later”. ISIS claimed to have killed or injured at least 70 Turkish soldiers in three suicide bombings carried out by its fighters and in fighting on the ground.

France and Britain are pushing the UN Security Council to ban the sale of helicopters to Syria and to impose the first sanctions over the use of chemical weapons in the five-year war. A draft resolution obtained by AFP on Wednesday calls for asset freezes and travel bans against four Syrian officials and 10 entities including a Syrian research center tied to chemical weapons development.

Diplomats however said the measure is certain to be vetoed by Russia, Syria's ally, which has blocked council action on Syria with six vetoes so far. A vote at the council is expected as early as next week.

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