Five Turkish soldiers were killed in an attack by Syrian government forces in Idlib province on Monday, Turkish officials and media said.
The officials said Turkish forces were retaliating after the strike in the Taftanaz area, where Turkey recently sent forces in response to advances by Syrian forces.
Turkey has sent hundreds of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and commandos to the neighbouring Syrian province of Idlib in response to the siege of some of its outposts by Bashar Al Assad’s forces.
The massive build-up over the weekend included the deployment of howitzers, multiple-rocket launchers, ambulances and trucks loaded with munitions, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Monday.
Turkey has dramatically reinforced its positions across the border since Syrian troops killed seven Turkish soldiers and a civilian in Idlib on February 3 as they closed in on the country’s last major rebel holdout. Syria’s government is using Russian air support to try to vanquish former Al Qaeda affiliates and Ankara-backed rebels in the province.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week threatened to use force to break the siege of the outposts in Idlib unless Syrian forces withdraw before the end of February. At least three of the 12 Turkish army outposts were confirmed to be cut off by Syrian forces in the area.
“Our main goal is to prevent a refugee exodus and humanitarian drama,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was cited as saying Sunday by the Hurriyet newspaper. “We’re trying to reach a ceasefire and stop the bloodshed.”
If the breach of Sochi and Astana agreements – struck by Turkey, Russia and Iran to curtail fighting in northern Syria – continued, “we have plans B and C,” Mr Akar said. “We keep telling them not to force us” to implement those plans.
A Russian delegation including President Vladimir Putin’s Syria envoy visited Ankara on Saturday to try to ease the strains around Idlib, and Turkish and Russian delegations were scheduled to continue talks this week, a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said.