MOSCOW – Turkish troops were with terrorists when they were targeted by a Syrian airstrike on Thursday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. The airstrike was carried out when the Syrian Army was repelling a large-scale offensive by terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Syria, inside the Idlib ‘de-escalation zone’, the Russian military announced on Friday, according to RT.
“Turkish servicemen inside the combat units of terrorist groups came under fire from the Syrian military on February 27 near the town of Behun,” it added.
The defense ministry stated that the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria was in constant contact with Ankara, regularly requesting and receiving information on the whereabouts of Turkish troops. And, according to the data submitted by Turkey, there were no Turkish soldiers near Behun when the Syrian Army was fighting terrorists there.
At least 33 Turkish servicemen have been killed in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province, while an unspecified number of soldiers were injured. Turkish officials attributed the strike to the Syrian military. More Turkish servicemen have been injured in the airstrike, but their number is so far unclear.
This is not the first time that Russia caught Ankara red-handed and failing to properly notify it and the Syrian government about the movement of the Turkish military inside the Idlib “de-escalation zone”. Earlier this month, six Turkish soldiers were killed when their convoy came under fire west of Saraqib after they moved there without informing the Russian side, Moscow announced at the time.
Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib is one of the very last remaining terrorist strongholds in the war-stricken Arab country, some of which are terrorist groups and some the so-called “Turkish-backed militants”. The clear difference between the two is extremely vague as Turkey has been failing to single out its “non-terrorists” for years, despite the fact that various treaties it signed earlier obliged it to do so.
The “de-escalation zone” in the Idlib province was set up by Turkey and Russia in 2018. Since then, Ankara has accused the Syrian Arab Army of “violating the ceasefire and attacking civilians”. Moscow, meanwhile, has said that Turkey has failed to hold its promise to clear the area of terrorists.