UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Air strikes killed at least 34 people Thursday among Turkish forces deployed in the Syrian province of Idlib, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The governor of the Turkish province of Hatay, bordering Syria, said 22 were killed among the Turkish soldiers present in Idlib.
Ankara has dispatched several thousand men and heavy equipment to this region in north-west Syria to support pro-Turkish rebels seeking to repel the offensive led by government forces with the support of the Russian air force.
The province of Idlib is the last in the hands of the insurgency.
– Earlier reports –
At least 22 Turkish soldiers were killed on Thursday in the Idlib province, a brutal escalation that threatens to ignite powder in northwestern Syria plagued by a serious humanitarian crisis.
Several soldiers were also seriously injured in airstrikes attributed to the Syrian regime and repatriated to be hospitalized, said the governor of the Turkish province of Hatay, bordering Syria.
Head of State Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened an extraordinary security council in Ankara in the evening, in the presence of the Minister of Defense, the head of the army and the head of the secret services, according to the presidency.
The heavy losses sustained by Ankara on Thursday come after weeks of escalation in Idlib between Turkish forces and those of the Bashar al-Assad regime, who clashed on several occasions.
The losses suffered by Turkey on Thursday, which bring the number of Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib to at least 42 in February, may also widen the gap between Ankara and Moscow, the main sponsor of the Syrian regime.
The death toll of Turkish soldiers killed on Thursday could further increase, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), an NGO, having reported more than 30 dead in the air and artillery bombings of the regime.
The strikes against Turkish forces risk triggering a firm response from Ankara, while Erdogan has been threatening for several days to force the regime’s forces out of certain positions in Idlib.
A new round of talks between Russians and Turks aimed at finding a solution to the Idlib crisis ended Thursday in Ankara, without announcing a conclusive result.
According to the state news agency Anadolu, the head of Turkish diplomacy met Thursday evening with the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.
– Strategic city –
With support from the Moscow air force, Damascus launched an offensive in December to retake Idleb’s last rebel and jihadist stronghold.
The regime and its Russian ally have been working hard in recent weeks and have taken over several localities in this border province of Turkey.
However, rebel groups, some of which are supported by Ankara, counterattacked and recaptured the strategic city of Saraqeb on Thursday, according to the OSDH.
According to an AFP correspondent, the rebels entered this locality in the east of the province of Idlib in the morning. The insurgents deployed in large numbers in the streets of the ruined city and completely emptied of its inhabitants.
Saraqeb, which had been recaptured on February 8 by the regime, is at the junction of two highways that the government wants to secure in order to consolidate its grip in the north of the country.
By taking over the city, jihadists and rebels cut the M5 motorway connecting the capital Damascus to the metropolis of Aleppo (north).
Western members of the UN Security Council on Thursday called for a “humanitarian cease-fire”, which went unheeded when Russia refused.
Seven civilians, including three children, died Thursday in Syrian and Russian bombings on the province of Idlib, according to the OSDH.
Since December, more than 400 civilians have been killed in the assault according to the OSDH and more than 948,000 people, including more than half a million children, have been displaced according to the UN.
– Disagreement –
At the UN, disagreement remains total between Western countries and Russia.
“The displacement of nearly a million people in just three months, the killing of hundreds of civilians, the daily suffering of hundreds of thousands of children must stop,” Belgian Deputy Prime Minister said in a joint statement. Alexander De Croo, and the head of German diplomacy, Heiko Maas.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said that “the only long-term solution is to drive the terrorists out of the country”.
The International Rescue Committee said on Thursday that “the parties to the conflict must feel the pressure to end this assault on civilians”.
“We have a desperate need for a cessation of hostilities” and “regular humanitarian breaks,” said UNICEF director Henrietta Fore.
The jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, ex-Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) still dominate half of the province of Idlib and adjoining sectors in those of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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