Turkey launched ground and air attacks on Syrian troops after eight of its military personnel were killed in Syrian shelling in the north of the war-torn country, jeopardizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fragile security pact with Damascus’s main ally, Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Those who test the determination of Turkey with such cowardly attacks will understand they are making a grave mistake,” Erdogan told Turkish television in Istanbul before leaving on a scheduled visit to Ukraine.
Turkish authorities said five soldiers and three civilian military personnel were killed Monday in shelling by the Syrian army in Idlib province, where Ankara has stationed troops at 12 observation posts. Mr. Erdogan said Turkey returned fire with artillery and airstrikes, killing dozens of Syrian troops.
Erdogan’s government forged a cease-fire agreement with Russia in September 2018 in a bid to prevent a military offensive that could send more than three million civilians there streaming across the border to Turkey. The country already hosts millions of Syrian refugees and the government is trying to send many of them back, the Journal adds.
But the deal, known as the Sochi pact, has gradually fallen apart as the government forces resumed attacks on the rebel-held towns and villages near the Turkish border, backed by Russian airstrikes.
Russia has complained that Turkey has failed to push extremists out of a designated area in Idlib, including some previously affiliated with al Qaeda.
Moscow’s air support has been pivotal in helping the Syrian armed forces seize control of rebel-held areas including most recently Maraat al-Numan, a strategic city on the Aleppo-Damascus highway and until recently a symbol of the antigovernment opposition.