8 Turkish personnel, 13 Syrian troops killed in north Syria

Monday, February 3, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey hit targets in northern Syria, responding to shelling by Syrian government forces that killed at least eight Turkish soldiers and civilian contractors, Turkey’s president said Monday. A Syrian war monitor said 13 Syrian troops were also killed.

Syrian activists said airstrikes in the country’s northern, rebel-held region also killed at least nine civilians Monday. The exchange of fire inside Syria between Ankara and Damascus came hours after a large Turkish military convoy  entered the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria. It is likely to further increase tensions between the two neighboring countries, as such direct clashes have been rare. It could also cause friction between Moscow and Ankara, which have sought to coordinate their actions in Syria.

Earlier, Turkey’s National Defense Ministry said the Turkish forces were sent to Idlib as reinforcements and were attacked there despite prior notification of their coordinates to the local authorities. It said Turkish forces responded to the attack, destroying targets.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said five servicemen and three civilian contractors were killed by Syrian government forces. Speaking at a news conference on a visit to Ukraine, he accused Russia of “turning a blind eye” on the Syrian army offensive in Idlib. He added that Turkey has shown patience, but the “developments in Idlib have become increasingly intolerable.” Erdogan claimed the Syrian advance has pushed over 1 million people to flee toward the border with Turkey. 

The United Nations has estimated that about 390,000 Syrians have been displaced there over the past two months — 315,000 in December and 75,000 in January.

Erdogan earlier said Turkish warplanes were involved and claimed that there were between 30 and 35 casualties on the Syrian side but offered no evidence.

“Those who test Turkey’s determination with such vile attacks will understand their mistake,” Erdogan said in Istanbul. He said Russia was told that Ankara would not stand for any “situation where we are prevented” from responding to Syrian assaults.