At least 33 Turkish soldiers have been killed in an airstrike by Syrian “regime forces” in the war-torn country’s Idlib region, a senior Turkish official has said.
While Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Turkey’s Hatay province, put the toll at 33, the UK-based the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 34 Turkish troops had been killed in Thursday evening’s airstrike, the BBC reported.
The wounded have been brought back to Turkey for treatment, Dogan added.
Turkey retaliated against Syrian government targets after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held an urgent top-level security meeting in Ankara late Thursday.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and senior Turkish military commanders immediately went to the Syrian border to direct a wave of ground and air attacks against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Last week, Turkey blamed the Syrian regime for the deaths of two of its soldiers in the rebel stronghold of Idlib, as tensions also escalated with Moscow which accused Ankara of “supporting terrorists”.
The situation in Idlib province in northwestern Syria has grown increasingly volatile in recent weeks, with a Syrian offensive triggering a humanitarian crisis as close to a million civilians fled the violence.
Last year, Turkey had killed 28 Kurdish militants in retaliation to an attack which left three Turkish soldiers dead.
The PKK, regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU, has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Turkey has retaliated against the attacks under the rules of engagement and its right to legitimate self-defence, killing nearly 200 Assad military personnel since last week.
Idlib has been a stronghold of the opposition and anti-government armed groups since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
In September 2018, Ankara and Moscow reached an agreement in Sochi, Russia, to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
Turkey launched a cross-border assault on Kurdish fighters after the US decided to withdraw troops from Syria, a move that was criticised by the Republicans, with some terming it a “betrayal” of the Kurds.