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NATO to hold urgent talks after Turkish troops killed in Syria

Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar inspects the operation against Assad regime targets [Anadolu/Getty]

Date of publication: 28 February, 2020

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Ambassadors from the NATO military alliance are holding emergency talks Friday at the request of Turkey following the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in northeast Syria.

NATO's ruling council will meet on Friday for urgent talks on the Syria crisis after at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike blamed on Damascus.

"The North Atlantic Council, which includes the ambassadors of all 29 NATO allies, will meet on Friday 28 February following a request by Turkey to hold consultations under article 4 of NATO's founding Washington Treaty on the situation in Syria," the alliance said in a statement.

Under Article 4, any NATO member can request talks when they believe their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" is threatened. 

It is separate from the alliance's Article 5 mutual self-defence pact, which refers to an attack on any members' territory.

Dozens more Turkish troops were injured in the air strike in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, where President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to wipe out the last rebel stronghold.

The losses come after weeks of growing tensions between Ankara and Damascus ally Moscow, and bring to 53 the number of Turkish security personnel killed in the province this month.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg urged de-escalation and condemned the "indiscriminate" air strikes in a phone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Ankara has called talks under Article 4 a number of times in recent years - twice in 2012 including after one of its jets was shot down by Syrian forces, and once in 2015 after a spate of terrorists attacks in Turkey.

After the 2012 incidents NATO agreed to deploy Patriot missile batteries in Turkey as a defensive measure.

Meanwhile, a monitor claimed Turkish reprisals killed 16 Syrian soldiers in the battleground northwestern province of Idlib on Friday following the death of 33 Turkish soldiers.

Read More: As Syria's economy collapses, how much more can people bear?

The retaliatory drone and artillery strikes hit Syria army positions in southern and eastern parts of the province which were recaptured by the government in a nearly three-month-old offensive against the rebel enclave, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

There was no immediate confirmation from Damascus of the reported deaths or any comment on the flare-up with Ankara.

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