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Syrian govt shelling kills Turkish troops in Idlib, Ankara says, prompting retaliatory strike

A Turkish military convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles passes through the Syrian town of Dana, east of the Turkish-Syrian border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on February 2, 2020.
A Turkish military convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles passes through the Syrian town of Dana, east of the Turkish-Syrian border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on February 2, 2020. © Aaref Watad/AFP

At least four Turkish soldiers were killed and nine others were wounded in "intensive shelling" in the northwestern region of Idlib on Monday by Syrian government forces, Turkey's National Defense Ministry said. A Turkish retaliation killed six Syrian soldiers, according to a monitor group.

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The ministry said the shelling in Syria's Idlib province took place despite prior notification of the coordinates of the Turkish forces that were sent to the province as reinforcements. It said Turkish forces responded to the attack.

The incident comes amid a Syrian government offensive into the country's last rebel stronghold, located in Idlib and parts of the nearby Aleppo region. Turkish troops are deployed in some of those rebel-held areas to monitor an earlier cease-fire that was agreed to but that has since collapsed.

Responding to the Syrian shelling, Turkey launched an immediate counterattack. The Turkish strike on regime positions south of the flashpoint town of Saraqeb wounded another 20 regime fighters, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it an "ongoing operation", and said that 30 to 35 Syrian forces were killed in the counterattack.

He urged regime ally Russia not to stand in the way of Ankara's response. "I want to especially tell the Russian authorities that our interlocutor here is not you but the (Syrian) regime, and do not stand in our way," Erdogan told reporters. 

Rare confrontation

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.

It risks a serious escalation in a region that has come under heightened attacks by Damascus and Moscow in recent weeks, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

Erdogan last week warned that Ankara would use military force against Damascus if any of its positions in Idlib were threatened by attacks.

Turkey has 12 observation posts in the region as part of its deal with Russia to prevent a Syrian government offensive.

Turkish media on Sunday reported that Turkey's military sent reinforcements to the region to bolster the forces stationed at the posts.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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