Turkey Retaliates, Hits Over 200 Syrian Regime Targets in Idlib
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday that Turkish drones and ground forces had hit more than 200 Syrian regime targets following the regime airstrike that has killed 33 of its soldiers in Idlib.
"After the treacherous attack, more than 200 targets of the Syrian regime were hit by our warplanes, drones and ground-based fire support systems. As a result, five helicopters, 23 tanks, 23 artillery units, two air defense systems, 309 Syrian regime soldiers were neutralized," Akar said, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish reprisals killed 16 Syrian regime soldiers.
There was no immediate confirmation from Damascus of the casualties, AFP reported.
The regime strike has caused Turkey the largest death toll in a single day since it first intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2016.
Russia's Defence Ministry said Friday the Turkish troops should not have been in the Syrian area where they were and that Ankara had not informed Moscow in advance about their location. It also confirmed that Russian war planes had not carried out strikes in the area where Turkish troops were.
"The Turkish troops had been hit by artillery fire from Syrian government forces who were trying to repel an offensive by militants," the Defence Ministry added, noting that Moscow had done everything to ensure the Syrian regime ceased fire to allow the troops to evacuate.
Amid the mounting tensions over Idlib, Russia said it decided to send two warships armed with cruise missiles to waters off the Syrian coast.
However, in a phone call later on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed on the need for new measures to be put in place to ease tensions and normalize the situation in the area.
In a readout of the phone call, the Kremlin said Putin and Erdogan agreed to organize a top-level meeting to address the situation in Syria's Idlib province that the presidents said was a matter of "serious concern," Reuters reported.
Earlier, a senior Turkish official commented on the incident saying that Ankara would no longer stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe.
Omer Celik, spokesman for Erdogan's ruling party, was quoted as saying that Turkey was “no longer able to hold refugees following the Syrian attack."
Under a 2016 deal, the EU has provided billions of euros in aid in return for Ankara agreeing to stem the influx of migrants into Europe.
For its part, the European Commission said it expected Ankara to uphold commitments it made on controlling flows of migrants to the EU.
"I would like to stress that there was no official announcement from the Turkish side about any changes in their asylum seeker, refugee or migrant policy," a spokesman for the EU's executive told a news briefing.
"So from our point of view the EU-Turkey statement ... still stands and we expect Turkey to uphold its commitments stemming from this statement. The Turkish authorities officially
confirmed there is no change in the official policy ... we expect that it will continue to stay so."