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Five Turkish troops killed in clashes with Syrian army

The fighting in Idlib led to the collapse of a fragile ceasefire that was brokered by Turkey and Russia in 2018.

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Rebel fighters fire a missile towards Syrian government positions in the province of Idlib (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

Rebel fighters fire a missile towards Syrian government positions in the province of Idlib (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

Rebel fighters fire a missile towards Syrian government positions in the province of Idlib (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

Turkey has said it hit back at Syrian government forces after “intense” Syrian shelling killed five of its soldiers and wounded five others in Syria’s northern Idlib province.

The fighting in Idlib led to the collapse of a fragile ceasefire that was brokered by Turkey and Russia 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 as a Russian delegation arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara for a second round of talks to discuss the fighting in neighbouring Syria.

A man carries his belongings through a street destroyed in recent bombings by the Syrian government forces in the town of Sarmin, in Idlib province
A man carries his belongings through a street destroyed in recent bombings by Syrian government forces in the town of Sarmin in Idlib province (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

Eight Turkish military and civilian personnel and 13 Syrian soldiers were killed in a similar clash in the province last week.

A Turkish defence ministry statement said Turkish artillery immediately responded to the attack, destroying targets.

“Our fire support vehicles immediately fired on the targets with intensity and the necessary response was given,” the ministry said.

Opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory reported that six Turkish soldiers were killed and seven were wounded when Syrian government forces shelled the Taftanaz air base in Idlib on Monday.

It added that four Syrian rebels were also killed in the shelling.

An air strike in a nearby rebel-held region, meanwhile, killed nine people including children, opposition activists said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and the nearby Aleppo area, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Some 600,000 people have fled the fighting there.

A Turkish military convoy drives through the village of Binnish in Idlib province, Syria
A Turkish military convoy drives through a village in Idlib province (Ghaith Alsayed/AP)

Most of the displaced are living in open-air shelters and temporary homes in freezing winter conditions close to the Turkish border.

Half of the displaced are believed to be children.

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 February 3 between Turkish and Syrian soldiers that killed eight Turkish military personnel and 13 Syrian troops.

Turkey has warned Syria to retreat to the ceasefire lines that were agreed in 2018.

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.

“If a compromise had been reached there would have been no need for today’s meeting,” Mr Cavusoglu told reporters.

He said the Turkish and Russian leaders could step in if no compromise is reached.

PA Media