Turkish reprisals kill 16 Syria troops
Turkey-backed Syrian fighters ride a tank in the town of Saraqib in the eastern part of the Idlib province in Syria. AFP
Turkish reprisals killed 16 Syrian soldiers in the battleground northwestern province of Idlib on Friday after a bombardment Ankara blamed on Damascus killed 33 Turkish soldiers, a monitor said.
The retaliatory drone and artillery strikes hit Syria army positions in southern and eastern parts of the province which were recaptured by the government in a nearly three-month-old offensive against the rebel enclave, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Also on Friday in Idlib, four members of a single family, two of them children, were killed in air strikes, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
There was no immediate confirmation from Damascus of the 16 deaths or any comment on the flare-up with Ankara that prompted NATO to call an urgent meeting of its ruling council for later Friday. "Sixteen regime fighters were killed in Turkish bombardment," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Turkey had said it retaliated "from the air and ground" for the deaths of 33 soldiers, Ankara's biggest single loss of personnel by far since it launched its intervention in Syria in 2016. The deadly strike comes after weeks of growing tension between Turkey and Russia -- the main foreign brokers in the Syrian conflict.
The latest casualties bring to 53 the number of Turkish soldiers killed in Syria this month alone. The flare-up came after Turkish-backed rebels reentered the key crossroads town of Saraqeb in Idlib province.
The town had been one of the most significant gains of the government offensive earlier in February because it lies along the M5 highway that connects Syria's four largest cities. A Syrian military source quoted by the state news agency SANA had accused Ankara on Thursday of actively supporting the groups that retook Saraqeb.
The Observatory said that Turkish artillery fire was helping the rebel factions in Saraqeb resist regime efforts to wrest back the town on Friday.