Three Turkish troops killed in Syria’s Idlib
Ankara-backed rebels say they regain pivotal Syrian town Saraqeb
Istanbul: Three Turkish soldiers have been killed in an air strike in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Turkey immediately responded to the attack by hitting Syrian “regime targets”, the Turkish defence ministry said on Twitter.
“We have three martyrs in Idlib, but the regime’s losses are very high,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara, without giving details.
Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military said on Thursday they had recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb in what would be the first major reverse for the Syrian army in a Russian-backed offensive that had made swift gains.
Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways, following advances by the Syrian army in its push to retake the last large, rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war.
Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Syria’s Idlib region in an unprecedented incursion to back the rebels against the offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Nearly a million Syrians have fled over the last three months, the biggest exodus of the war.
“The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad’s gangs,” said Naji Mustafa, spokesman for a Turkish-backed coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front.
A Russian military source cited by Russian news agencies denied that, saying Syrian government forces had successfully repelled a rebel attack on the town.
A Turkish official subsequently said Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power, had launched an operation to take back Saraqeb. “There are violent clashes,” he told Reuters. – AFP/ Reuters