Ankara has claimed that four Turkish soldiers were killed and another nine were injured after they came under heavy shelling in the rebel-held province of Idlib, while blaming Syrian Army forces for the attack.
In a statement on Monday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said that its forces came under “intense artillery fire” in the northwest Syrian province, leaving four troops dead and nine injured, including one seriously.
The ministry said that the Turkish forces retaliated by destroying unspecified targets in the region. It also claimed that Ankara had warned Damascus in advance that its military reinforcements were moving to the area, which is the only opposition stronghold left in the war-ravaged country.
The incident comes shortly after a large Turkish military convoy – consisting of some 50 armored vehicles, trucks carrying tanks, and armored personnel carriers – was reported to have entered Idlib through Kafr Loosen crossing, purportedly to monitor a ceasefire from one of the observation posts.Video of the convoy embarking on its journey towards Idlib has been shared by Turkish media.
Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that all options, “including using military force,” were on the table over the Syrian Army offensive against militants in Idlib province. He claimed that such attacks cause an influx of migrants into Turkey.
There is a designated “de-escalation” zone in the Idlib governorate, agreed by Russia, Turkey and Iran under the so-called Astana process. Ankara, which has a lot of influence over many of the anti-government fighters in Idlib, is supposed to ensure that they maintain a ceasefire.
In practice, the fighting there never fully stopped. Some jihadist groups in Idlib don’t appear to have any intention of de-escalating the conflict, and have been launching regular attacks on Syrian Army forces. They even tried on many occasions to cause damage to the Russian airbase in Khmeimim. Damascus’ response so far has been to slowly encroach on militant territory, a process that Turkey believes to be threatening its interests.