At least 33 Turkish soldiers have been killed in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province, while an unspecified number of soldiers were injured as Syrian army forces, backed by allied fighters from popular defense groups, continue to score territorial gains in battles against foreign-sponsored terrorists in their last major bastion in the country.
Turkish officials attributed the strike to the Syrian military. “In Idlib, Turkey’s armed forces were targeted by the regime elements in an airstrike,” Hatay province Governor Rahmi Dogan told the media late on Thursday. While he originally said that nine soldiers had been killed, minutes later the death toll was revised to 33, the Turkish Anadolu Agency (AA) reported, citing the governor.
More Turkish soldiers have been injured in the airstrike, but their number is so far unclear. Dogan’s statement comes amid a high-level Turkish security meeting, reportedly chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and presumably focused on the incident.
Unverified reports swirled on social media Thursday, claiming that dozens of Turkish troops were killed in a “Russian” airstrike, that dozens more were injured, and that the hospitals in Hatay were struggling to cope with the influx of the wounded. None of this has so far been confirmed by Ankara.
Speaking to Anadolu, Dogan stressed that there was no shortage of blood at the hospitals, noting that medics have been “taking all necessary interventions” to treat the wounded.
Erdogan’s press secretary Fahrettin Altun told reporters in the early hours of Friday that Turkey is “responding” to the “illegitimate regime that has pointed the gun at our soldiers,” by launching air and artillery strikes against Syrian targets. Altun even described the events in Idlib as a “genocide”, saying Turkey will not allow the repetition of “what happened in Rwanda and Bosnia” there. “The blood of our heroic soldiers will not be left on the ground,” Altun said, according to AA. “Our activities on the ground in Syria will continue until the hands reaching for our flag are broken.”
Turkish officials have called the NATO secretary-general and the US national security adviser in relation to the events in Idlib, Anadolu reported.
Separately, Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Turkey of illegally sending strike drones into Syria’s Idlib region to support Takfiri militants fighting Syrian government forces, and of providing artillery support for them.
Earlier, a military source said Turkish military forces were using shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down Russian and Syrian military aircraft in Idlib as heavy fighting continues in the area.
“Syrian and Russian planes are stopping militants again and again. But the sky above Idlib is also dangerous. The militants and Turkish specialists are actively using portable air defense systems,” Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 24 television news network reported on Thursday.
The report noted that Russian and Syrian planes were therefore being forced to take countermeasures after they carry out a string of airstrikes against militant positions in the region.
Furthermore, Turkish military forces have fired barrages of missiles at targets in Syria’s west-central province of Hama, the northwestern towns of Kafr Nabl and Zahraa as well as the strategic western coastal city of Latakia in response to an airstrike blamed on Damascus in Idlib region that killed thirty-four Turkish soldiers.