Turkish forces struck Syrian regime positions in response to an artillery strike that killed a Turkish soldier and wounded three others in southwestern Idlib on Thursday in a significant escalation between the two sides.
“Following the attack on our Observation Point Number 10 by [Syrian] regime forces in Idlib, the regime positions from which the attack was launched were put under fire by our fire-support vehicles in the area,” the Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Thursday, June 28.
Warning of further retaliation, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff General Yaşar Güler summoned Russia’s Military attaché to Ankara, according to a Defense Ministry statement which warned that any further Syrian shelling will be “punished most severely.”
Syrian news agency STEP also said the regime attack caused casualties.
The National Liberation Front, a Turkey-backed Syrian coalition of rebel groups, released a video claiming to show its forces in the area launching GRAD rockets towards Syrian regime positions on Thursday night.
Local reports said Turkish aircraft were seen flying over the Idlib countryside later on Thursday.
Ankara’s defense ministry claims pro-Syrian regime forces have struck Turkish military positions in the area six times over the last two months.
Turkish media reported that reinforcements were sent from Turkey to the area on Wednesday in response to the series of attacks.
Turkey maintains 12 observation posts in Idlib province, which is controlled by the NLF coalition of anti-Assad forces supported by the Turkish army, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of jihadist groups, some of which have links to al-Qaeda.
Russia and Turkey agreed in September 2018 to create a deescalation zone in Idlib, but the jihadist groups refused to withdraw from the area as part of the agreement.
Ankara severed diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2012 due to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.
The Syrian regime launched an offensive on Idlib in late April with Russian military support, but progress on the ground has been minimal.
The regime appears to be focusing its efforts on controlling the M5 highway, a strategic artery which links Aleppo to Damascus and continues southward to the Jordanian border.
Elements of the Syrian Arab Army’s 5th Corps, Liwa al-Quds (the Jerusalem Brigade) militia and Tiger Forces are reportedly participating in the operation.
Pro-Assad forces have bombarded “hospitals, schools and markets,” leading to the death of at least 300 civilians and the displacement of over 330,000 since the start of the Idlib offensive, according to the United Nations.
Russia has played a pivotal role in propping up the Damascus government militarily since 2015 while attempting to position itself as the powerbroker in the multi-sided conflict.