Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, February 27.
Turkey, which supports several Syrian rebel groups in the area, immediately responded to the attack by hitting Syrian “regime targets,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Twitter.
“We have three martyrs in Idlib, but the regime’s losses are very high,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara, without giving details.
It was not immediately clear who conducted the strike. Russia, which has been bombing civilian and rebel targets in Idlib, warned Turkey last week to stop supporting the rebels “in order to avoid incidents.”
Russia and the Syrian government consider rebels fighting Assad’s forces to be terrorists. Idlib, the last rebel pocket in the country following nine years of civil war, is largely controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but is home to millions of people displaced from other area of the country.
The Turkish death toll rose after the defense ministry earlier on Thursday said two soldiers had been killed and two had been injured in the northwest province.
The latest casualties bring the number of Turkish security personnel killed in regime fire in Idlib this month to 20.
Despite the losses, Erdogan said developments in Idlib had taken a “favorable turn.”
Rebels said earlier on Thursday they had moved into the town of Saraqeb on the vital M5 highway on Thursday, in a setback for the Assad government’s Russia-backed offensive into the last rebel-held province.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes since December in the largest displacement since the civil war in Syria broke out almost nine years ago.
The attacks on Turkey’s forces have caused strains between Ankara and Syria’s key ally Russia.
Turkey has urged the Assad regime to pull back by the end of February from behind Turkey’s military outposts in Idlib, a number of which have been surrounded by regime forces during the offensive.
Turkey set up 12 observation posts after a deal in 2018 with Moscow, whom Ankara has worked with closely despite backing opposite sides in the conflict.
Russian diplomats and military officials were holding a second round of negotiations with their Turkish counterparts on Thursday.
Akar told reporters the talks had “reached a certain point” and the outcome would be clearer later on Thursday or Friday, state news agency Anadolu reported.
“We will decide how to move forward based on that,” said Akar.
The minister said Ankara sought access to the airspace above Idlib, controlled by Russia, to drones.
With reporting from AFP