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Turkey says it destroyed 'chemical warfare facility' in Syria amid soaring tensions

Tensions have soared between Turkey and Syria in recent weeks [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 February, 2020

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The Turkish army said it destroyed 'a chemical warfare facility' in Syria on Saturday, though the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a military airport was hit.
A Turkish official said Turkey destroyed a chemical warfare facility in Syria on Saturday after dozens of its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in the last-rebel enclave of Idlib province.

The Turkish army destroyed overnight "a chemical warfare facility, located some 13 kilometres south of Aleppo, along with a large number of other regime targets," the senior official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.

Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years.

Turkey said it retaliated by hitting more than 200 regime targets in drone and artillery bombardments.

The reprisals killed 48 Syrian soldiers in Idlib, according to a monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There was no confirmation from the Syrian government.

Rebel and Turkish fire also killed 10 fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group backed by Iran that is supporting Assad, the Observatory said, adding that Russian strikes killed seven civilians.

A journalist for Al-Akhbar on Saturday also confirmed in a Facebook post the death of Major General Burhan Rahmoun who held a senior position within Syria's Republican Guard. 

The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.

As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces - backed by Russian air power - have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the region.

On Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions.

Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.

Depite being on opposite ends, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution to the Syria conflict.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump condemned the attack on Turkish troops in a call with Erdogan and again urged Russia and Syria to halt the Idlib operation, the White House said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attack "despicable and brazen" and said the US was looking at ways to support Turkey, a NATO ally that has recently drifted from the West.

The flare-up raised fresh concerns for civilians caught up in the escalation of the horrific eight-year civil war, with the UN saying nearly a million people - half of them children - have been displaced in the bitter cold by the fighting since December.



Agencies contributed to this report.

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