Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that five Turkish soldiers were killed when their position was bombed by Syrian artillery.
A further five were wounded in the bombardment shelling by the Syrian regime force in the Taftanaz area located in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria.
The announcement came as the command echelons of Turkish military held meetings with the Russian delegation, which had arrived in Ankara on Sunday to discuss the situation in the de-escalation zone of Idlib.
Monday morning saw sources from Turkey-backed proxies posting footage on Twitter showing Turkish troops and rebel militants on the move, claiming that a major offensive was underway.
However, as shelling by Turkish artillery reportedly started minutes before the meeting with Russian delegation commenced, there had been a halt in the offensive, possibly waiting for the outcome of the negotiations, local sources said.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry stated that the country’s military would retaliate in kind against the regime forces.
According to sources from the Turkish military, over the past week, more than 1200 military vehicles and nearly 10,000 troops crossed the border to reinforce Turkish positions in the Idlib province.
Turkey has urged Russia to restrain the regime onslaught in the Idlib region. Syrian government forces came within 10 km of the provincial capital Idlib city, home to more than 1 million people, causing nearly 800,000 to flee toward the Turkish border.
The news of the deaths came barely hours after Turkey warned Syria, saying it would do “what is necessary” to reinforce its military observation posts in Syria’s Idlib province.
The warning to Syria that it should not stop reinforcements came from Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, which was speaking to the daily Hurriyet newspaper.
“Turkey will keep its observation points in Idlib within the framework of the [Sochi] agreement, and in this context; it will continue reinforcements,” the minister stated. “Our authorized colleagues there are coordinating their supply by negotiating with their Russian counterparts. Despite this, if there is blocking, we express it very clearly, we will do whatever is necessary,” Akar said.
A senior Turkish official later told Reuters, Turkey’s military observation outposts had been fully reinforced, and they were ready for any event.
“The Idlib front has been strengthened. Of course, all options are on the table,” the unnamed official said.
“Our brave army will continue to carry out its sacred duties to clear the entire geographic territory of Syria from terrorism and its supporters,” the Syrian armed forces said in a statement in response to the Turkish remarks.
Russia-backed Syrian forces have recently recaptured dozens of towns and villages. They have retaken control over more than 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) of territory in total, according to the statement.
Turkish troop movements in the region had increased notably since Sunday last week when eight Turkish military personnel were killed in Syrian shelling in Saraqeb.
Turkey backs the rebels and has twelve military outposts in the Idlib region based on previous Astana and Sochi agreements concluded with Russia and Iran.
The trio – Russia, Iran, and Syria – accuse Turkey of not fulfilling its task, under the deals, of removing the rebels with their heavy arms from the agreed territory.
Ankara refuses to leave the observation posts, one of which has been reportedly surrounded by the Syrian forces since December.
“Turkish observation posts will stay in the area as per the agreements signed with Russia, and reinforcements will continue to take place,” Akar added.
Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would “take matters into its own hands” if the al-Assad regime did not withdraw beyond the observation points until the end of February.
“Do not force us. Otherwise, our plans B and C are ready,” Akar warned.
According to Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman and founder of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), at least 850,000 people were displaced in Idlib in 2019.
Pope Francis had also expressed his concern for Syrians in Idlib.
“Painful reports are still emerging from northwestern Syria, particularly regarding the plight of so many women and children, as well as of people forced to flee because of a military escalation,” the Pope said at the Angelus prayer.