Two Turkish soldiers were killed and another five wounded in Syrian government air raids on Thursday near the northwest region of Idlib.
More than 50 Syrian forces were killed in retaliation, Turkey’s defence ministry added.
The attacks came a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of an imminent Turkish military offensive in Idlib, where Syrian forces, backed by Russia airpower, mounted an operation to capture the region.
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Turkey’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said the soldiers – who were in Idlib to “establish peace and manage humanitarian aid operations” – were killed by “an attack carried out by the [Syrian] regime”.
Earlier this month, 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syrian attacks, prompting Erdogan to say Turkey will attack Syrian forces “anywhere” in Syria if another soldier was hurt.
In a statement, the defence ministry said five tanks, two armoured personnel carriers, two armoured trucks and one howitzer were also destroyed in retaliation.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said at least 11 pro-government fighters and 14 on the pro-Turkey side were killed along with the two Turkish troops.
Russia – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally – accused Turkey on Thursday of providing artillery support to rebels fighting Syrian government forces, and said fighters briefly broke through government defences in Idlib, Russian news agencies reported.
Russia’s air force carried out air raids on the pro-Turkish fighters who burst through Syrian government positions in two areas of Idlib province, allowing the Syrian army to repel the attacks, the defence ministry was cited as saying.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday the United States may send Patriot missile systems to Turkey to use for security in the face of the conflict. Akar said talks with the US on purchasing Patriot systems were continuing.
“There is the threat of air strikes, missiles against our country,” Akar told CNN Turk broadcaster. “There could be Patriot support.”
Akar added Turkey will activate the S-400 missile defence system that it bought from Russia and there should be “no doubt” about this.
But he added: “We have no intentions of a face-off with Russia.”
Nearly 900,000 people, more than half of whom are children, have fled their homes in Idlib since December 1, when Russian-backed Syrian government forces pressed ahead with a military offensive to push out opposition fighters from their last stronghold in the country.
Most of them are now in Idlib and Aleppo governorates, where freezing conditions are creating a grave humanitarian situation.
At the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Russia blocked a resolution demanding a ceasefire in northwestern Syria.
In Geneva on Thursday, the United Nations refugee chief called for a halt to the fighting to allow hundreds of thousands of trapped civilians to move to places of safety.
Syrian troops backed by Russian forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year civil war.
Residents and relief staff said Russian warplanes on Thursday resumed attacks on the towns of Darat Izza and Atareb in the northern corner of Aleppo province, where Turkish troops have set up a line of defence to thwart further advances by the Syrian army and allied Iranian militias.