Turkey said on Monday its military hit dozens of Syrian government targets after eight Turkish military personnel were killed by shelling in Idlib in northwest Syria, where fighting threatens to test ties between Ankara and Moscow.
Turkey and Russia are on opposing sides in the fighting in Idlib and, though they work together elsewhere in Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said Russian officials had been told they should “stand aside” in the conflict around Idlib.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkish forces had hit 54 targets in Idlib in retaliation and “neutralised” 76 Syrian government soldiers, the state-owned Anadolu agency reported.
He later told Turkish media that seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian working for the Turkish military had died in the shelling, and added that 13 others who were wounded were in good condition.
Erdogan had earlier said the retaliatory operations included the use of F-16 fighter jets and responded to what Turkey called intense shelling of its troops in Idlib, the last big rebel stronghold after nearly nine years of war in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power, have made large advances in Idlib, prompting Turkey to warn it may launch a military operation there unless the fighting is halted.
Ankara and Moscow have also been regularly conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria. It is not clear whether or how such cooperation would be affected by any strains in ties over Idlib but Turkish broadcaster NTV said that the patrol on Monday was cancelled. Closer military ties between NATO member Turkey and Russia have meanwhile alarmed Washington and other Western allies.
Turkey has in recent days sent military vehicles, trucks and other reinforcements to the region in a challenge to Damascus and its Russian backers.