Turkey says military convoy targeted in northern Syria

Written by on August 19, 2019

Air raids have targeted a Turkish military convoy heading to one of Ankara’s observation posts in northwest Syria, the Turkish defence ministry has said, adding that at least three civilians were killed and 12 wounded.

The ministry did not provide other details but “strongly condemned” Monday’s air raids, saying they were contrary to “existing agreements as well as our cooperation and dialogue with Russia”.

It also called for “urgent measures” to prevent a repeat of the incident.  

Turkey backs some of the rebels in northwest Syria and has deployed forces into the Idlib region – the rebels’ last stronghold – under deals with Russia, the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier on Monday, a war monitor and witnesses said Russian fighter jets had targeted positions near the convoy which had crossed into Syria’s Idlib province.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a fighter belonging to a Turkey-backed faction accompanying the convoy was killed in Monday’s air raids, while others were injured.

Syrian state media, SANA, quoted a source in Syria’s foreign ministry as saying the Turkish convoy loaded with munitions crossed the border and was heading to Khan Sheikhoun to help “terrorist” groups.

It denounced the move as an act of “aggression”, saying it would not affect “the determination of the Syrian Arab Army to keep hunting the remnants of terrorists” in Khan Sheikhoun or elsewhere.

Al Jazeera’s Suhaib al-Khalaf, reporting from Idlib, said the convoy consisted of seven tanks and heavy weaponry.

He added that the convoy was forced to stop on the Damascus-Aleppo highway near the town of Maarat Al Numan as Russian air raids targeted positions in the area.

“It is clear that the Syrian-Russian alliance wants to send a direct message to the convoy: not to approach the areas where heavy clashes are taking place in and around Khan Sheikhoun,” al-Khalaf said.

Short-lived ceasefire

Syrian troops, backed by Russia, launched the offensive to retake Idlib and surrounding rebel-held areas in late April.

Idlib is home to three million people, half of whom are internally displaced after being transferred en masse to the province from other areas that fell to pro-government forces.

Air raids on the area have intensified in recent days after a short-lived ceasefire.

Khan Sheikhoun – a major rebel-held town controlled by the Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group, a former al-Qaeda affiliate – is in one of Idlib province’s outer areas that lies on a key highway that connects Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo.

Pro-government forces are seeking to surround and enclose the area and if they succeed, they will also surround a Turkish military observation point in the area, al-Khalaf noted.

The United Nations has called for respect for the lives of civilians as well as medical and humanitarian workers, saying the death toll is “rising every day”.

In the past four months, the UN has documented 500 civilian deaths. It has also said that at least 42 attacks on healthcare facilities have been reported during the period.

Russia and Syria say their forces are targeting the rebel groups, including HTS, and not civilians.


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