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Syria: unprecedented violence between Turkish and Syrian soldiers

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Unprecedented violence broke out between Turkish and Syrian soldiers in northwestern Syria on Monday, killing more than 20 people, one of the most serious confrontations between the two camps in the country at war.

This escalation has increased tension between Turkey, which supports rebel groups in Syria, and Russia, the main supporter of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in its war against insurgents and jihadists.

The hostilities that have lasted several hours are the most serious since Turkey’s intervention in the Syrian conflict in 2016 to fight the jihadist Islamic State (IS) group and to drive Syrian Kurdish forces away from its border.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), clashes erupted before dawn after the arrival of a Turkish convoy of 240 trucks and armored vehicles near the locality of Saraqeb in the province of Idlib, that the Syrian regime wants to take back.

They were triggered by regime fire on Turkish positions, the OSDH said, adding that Turkish soldiers retaliated by firing artillery at Syrian positions in the provinces of Idlib and those neighboring Hama and Latakia.

The Turkish army said it had “destroyed several targets”. According to Ankara, five Turkish soldiers and three civilian personnel were killed, and nine soldiers injured.

“We said” It is no longer possible, “and we have provided the appropriate response,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, commenting on the Turkish reprisals. “Whether by air or artillery bombing, we are making them pay the price.”

– “Assume your obligations” –

On the Syrian side, at least 13 soldiers were killed and twenty injured, according to the OSDH. But the official Syrian agency Sana has denied any death in the ranks of the army.

According to Ankara, the targeted Turkish soldiers were sent to Idlib to reinforce the approximately 12 Turkish observation posts in the region.

Russia said it had not been informed of these reinforcements. But Ankara said it had warned the Russians “a day before”. These two countries play an essential role in the conflict.

Direct deadly confrontations between Turkey and the pre-regime have been very rare since the start of the war in March 2011.

Erdogan once again called on Moscow to “live up to its obligations” in Idlib, after the two countries sponsored a truce supposed to take effect in mid-January in the province of Idlib, the last great bastion dominated by jihadists and hosting rebels in Syria.

But this truce remained a dead letter and the Assad regime, supported by the Russian ally, continued its offensive in the province as well as in adjacent sectors of the provinces of Hama, Latakia and Aleppo.

Thanks to its aviation and the almost daily bombardments, the Assad regime gained ground in these zones dominated by the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Cham, ex-branch of Al-Qaeda.

– Children killed –

Also on Monday, 14 civilians including six children were killed and 20 wounded in new Russian raids targeting the west of Aleppo province, according to the OSDH.

“The planes targeted a car carrying the displaced,” OSDH director Rami Abdel Rahmane told AFP.

An AFP correspondent in the locality of Urum al-Kubra was able to see the bodies of nine of the victims, including children with bloody faces, wrapped in blankets.

In response to the offensive, the World Health Organization reported the closure in January of at least 53 medical facilities in the region.

In Idlib province, regime forces are now targeting the city of Saraqeb, located on a key highway connecting the metropolis of Aleppo to the province of Latakia.

These forces took a stretch of the highway as well as the village of Al-Nerab, according to the Observatory. They are 8 km from the city of Idlib, the eponymous capital of the province.

The Idlib front represents the last major strategic battle for the Assad regime, which now controls more than 70% of the territory after having multiplied the victories against the jihadists and rebels.

Syrian forces are deployed in the northeast of the country, held by the Kurds, but this minority continues to enjoy great autonomy there. Some areas escape in the north and are held by Turkish forces and their Syrian auxiliaries.

Triggered by the repression of pro-democracy protests, the conflict in Syria has left more than 380,000 dead and forced millions to flee.

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