Turkey said it hit back at Syrian government forces on Monday, after “intense” Syrian shelling killed five of its soldiers and wounded five others in Syria’s northern Idlib province. Turkey is fully engaged militarily in war against Assad.
The fighting in Idlib led to the collapse of a fragile cease-fire that Turkey and Russia brokered in 2018. Turkey supports the Syrian rebels, while Russia has heavily backed the Syrian government’s campaign to retake the area which is the last rebel stronghold in Syria.
The exchange of fire came even as a Russian delegation arrived in the Turkish capital of Ankara for a second round of talks to discuss the fighting in neighboring Syria. Earlier fighting between Syrian and Turkish troops killed eight Turkish military and civilian personnel and dozens of Syrian soldiers in a similar clash in the province last week.
A Turkish defense ministry statement said Turkish artillery immediately responded to the attack, destroying targets.
The ministry said:
Our fire support vehicles immediately fired on the targets with intensity and the necessary response was given.
An opposition monitoring group reported that Syrian shelling killed six Turkish soldiers and wounded seven. The shelling hit the Taftanaz air base in Idlib on Monday. It added that the shelling also killed four Syrian rebels.
A Russian airstrike in a nearby rebel-held region, meanwhile, killed nine people including children.
Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib. They seized dozens of towns. The fighting sparked a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Some 600,000 people have fled the fighting there.
Most of the displaced are living in open-air shelters and temporary homes in freezing winter conditions close to the Turkish border. The U.N. believes half of the displaced are children.
TURKEY BEEFING UP ITS TROOPS IN SYRIA
Turkey sent hundreds of military vehicles and troops into Idlib province in the past week. The buildup and the continued government advances sparked a rare clash on Feb. 3 between Turkish and Syrian soldiers. Turkey has warned Syria to retreat to the cease-fire lines that Turkey and Russia agreed upon in 2018.
Since Russian troops are fighting alongside Assad forces, Putin is dishonoring the agreement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkish and Russian delegations exchanged proposals over the situation in Idlib during a first meeting in Ankara on Saturday. On Monday, the Russian team returned to Ankara from a visit to Jordan, for further discussions, he said.
Cavusoglu told reporters.
If a compromise had been reached there would have been no need for today’s meeting.
He said the Turkish and Russian leaders could step to reach a compromise if necessary.
Syria’s military has vowed to keep up its campaign.
THE KURDS ARE TERRORIZING TURKISH TROOPS
Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded Monday in a Syrian town controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters. It killed at least four people and wounding 15 others, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
The attack was the latest in a series of explosions in Turkish-controlled regions that have killed and wounded scores of people. Turkey has blamed the attacks on the Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units.
The bomb went off on a main street in the town of Afrin, which Turkey took control of following a military incursion in 2018, Anadolu reported. It said some of the wounded were in serious condition, adding that the death toll was likely to rise.
The Turkish offensive has aimed at pushing Kurdish fighters away from the border. Those Kurdish fighters had been key U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
AP contributed to this article.