Six Turkish soldiers were killed and nine were wounded, one of them seriously, in shelling by Syrian regime forces in northwest Syria’s Idlib region on Monday, the Turkish defense ministry said, with a war monitor reporting six Syrian soldiers dead in a Turkish counterattack.
The clash is a rare confrontation between Syrian forces and Turkish soldiers who are based in parts of Syria's north and northwest where Ankara backs a host of rebel groups.
The ministry said Turkish forces retaliated against the attack and destroyed targets in the Idlib region. It added that the Syrian forces carried out the shelling despite being notified of the positions of the Turkish forces beforehand.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey will continue to retaliate for the attack.
Explaining the retaliation the ministry had announced, Erdogan said 40 places were targeted and initial information shows that 30 to 35 Syrian regime soldiers were neutralized in the operation.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights only reported six deaths among Syrian troops and state media said that the Turkish retaliation did not cause any casualties. The Russian Defense Ministry said no attacks on Syrian troops were recorded.
“We have responded in kind to these attacks and will continue to do so, whether it is with our artillery or mortars. We are determined to continue our operations for the security of our country, people and our brothers in Idlib,” he told reporters in Istanbul.
“Those who question our determination will soon understand they made a mistake,” Erdogan added.
he also warned Russia not to get involved as it retaliated against Syrian regime forces for killing four of its soldiers in northwest Syria’s Idlib.
Three Turkish military convoys entered Syrian territory from the Kafrlosin border crossing on Sunday, according to a Syrian war monitor, two days after President Erdogan said Turkey may launch a military operation in Idlib.
Sunday’s bombardment also killed 14 civilians.
The shelling by Syrian government forces was carried out “against our elements sent as reinforcements to prevent clashes in Idlib, despite their positions being coordinated beforehand,” the Turkish defense ministry statement said.
Turkey has 12 military observation posts around Idlib, set up under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran. Several of them have since been surrounded by advancing Syrian regime forces.
On Friday, regime forces battled extremists and moderate opposition forces on the outskirts of Idlib’s Saraqib, which has been nearly deserted following two weeks of heightened bombardment, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian airpower, have made rapid advances in the Idlib region, the last major opposition-held stronghold in Syria’s nearly nine-year war – which began after the Syrian regime’s brutal oppression of peaceful protests demanding reform and regime change.
The region is home to around three million people, half of whom have been evacuated by Assad’s forces from other parts of the country after the Syrian regime besieged whole cities which were controlled by the opposition and bombarded them with Russian airstrikes.