Turkey retaliates against Syrian regime attack in Idlib
Turkey launched a barrage of attacks on targets in northwest Syria on Monday in response to Syrian regime shelling that killed at least eight Turkish soldiers and civilian contractors.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar claimed 54 regime targets were hit and 76 Syrian soldiers "neutralised" in the attacks, Anadolu news agency reported.
In an Istanbul press conference earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alluded to the large losses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces incurred during the reprisal.
"There is an ongoing operation right now and... according to initial findings around 30 to 35 Syrians on the other side were neutralised," he told reporters at an Istanbul airport before leaving for Ukraine.
Erdogan said the retaliatory operations included F-16 fighter jets and had responded to intense shelling of its troops in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory said 13 members of Syrian regime forces were killed, while Syrian state TV said there had been no casualties among government forces.
Read more: Syria Weekly: Assad regime celebrates capture of Maarat Al-Numan, an Idlib ghost town
The deadly barrage was launched after Turkish forces sent to Idlib as reinforcements were attacked by regime forces despite prior notification of their coordinates with local authorities.
According to sources from within the Turkish government who spoke to The New Arab, Turkey sent reinforcements into Idlib to build defence instalments along the strategic M4 and M5 highways which link Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib.
The Russian defence minister however claimed that Turkey had failed to notify Moscow's military and the troops were hit by Syrian fire directed at "terrorists" - a reference to al-Qaeda-linked militants - west of Saraqeb.
The exchange of shelling between Syria and Turkey is among the deadliest since Turkey deployed troops in Syria in 2016.
A 2018 demilitarisation agreement to create a 'buffer zone' in Idlib offered provisions for Turkey to maintain 12 observation posts in rebel-held areas.
Heightened attacks by the regime and Moscow in the region have displaced more than 388,000 people since December, according to the United Nations, forcing many towards the Turkish border.
Ankara, host to more than three million Syrian refugees, fears the latest fighting will lead to another mass influx.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday called for an end to fighting but air strikes, many of them carried out by Russian aircraft, have continued.
On Monday, at least nine civilians were killed in an air strike on northwest Syria where similar raids conducted a day earlier killed 14 civilians, according to the SOHR.
Government forces last week retook the key town of Maaret al-Numan along the highway and are now just a few kilometres from the abandoned town of Saraqeb.