Five Turkish soldiers were killed Monday and five others injured in artillery fire at an outpost in Idlib province in northwest Syria, according to the Turkish defense ministry and a presidential spokesperson.
Syrian regime fire killed the soldiers at a post near Taftanaz airport, prompting the Turkish military to retaliate, Turkish broadcaster NTV reported the defense ministry as saying on February 10.
The post was established last week, according to Daily Sabah, which reported that the Turkish forces were retaliating after an airstrike at the airport, between Idlib city and Aleppo.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was set to meet with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar later on Monday.
“A heinous attack occurred today in Idlib, where our military serves, pursuant to our rights under international law, to end the violence and mitigate the humanitarian crisis,” said Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish president’s communications director.
“Turkey retaliated against the attack to destroy all enemy targets and avenging our fallen troops,” Altun tweeted.
“The Turkish Armed Forces, who tirelessly serve the cause of peace and stability around the world, will continue to crush anyone who dares to target our flag,” he said.
The attack comes as the Syrian army pushes forward with an offensive into Idlib province, the last bastion of rebels opposed to Bashar al-Assad’s government. Much of Idlib is under control of al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but is also home to three million people, half displaced from other parts of the country during nine years of civil war.
Last Monday pro-regime fighters clashed with Turkish forces near the town of Saraqeb, east of Idlib city and south of Taftanaz, killing seven Turkish soldiers and an unknown number of Syrian Arab Army troops. Erdogan has warned that Turkey would use military force if any of its positions in Idlib were attacked.
Ankara has supported the rebels against Assad’s forces and set up military posts in Idlib under a 2018 deal with Russia to forestall a regime offensive in the province. Two of those outposts are now behind Syrian military lines, according to Erdogan.
Turkey has bolstered its military presence in the area over the last week with additional commandoes and 150 new vehicles.
Nearly 700,000 people have fled the northwest region since December, mostly due to Syrian and Russian bombardment and the ongoing ground offensive, according to the United Nations.