ISTANBUL (AP) — An attack on Turkish troops in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province Saturday left two soldiers dead and three others wounded, Turkish officials said.
The assault happened following a search and screening operation in the Idlib de-escalation zone, the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement. It identified the dead soldiers as infantry non-commissioned officers.
Idlib is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria's civil war and parts are patrolled by Turkish and Russian troops.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a roadside bomb attack on a Turkish convoy happened on the road between Idlib city and Binnish. It said the wounded soldiers were evacuated to Turkey by helicopter.
The Observatory said the attack was claimed by a group known as the Supporters of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Company, a militant group that has claimed previous attacks on Turkish forces.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar later traveled to the Syrian border to meet military commanders.
Speaking at a command center near the border in Turkey’s Hatay province, Akar said Turkey would carry on its mission in Syria. “We must compete the task completely to show that the blood of our martyrs is not wasted,” he said. He also called for stability in Idlib to provide security for its inhabitants and prevent a fresh wave of migration. Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
Northwestern Syria has seen sporadic military activity since a cease-fire there was brokered in March 2020 by Turkey and Russia, which support opposing sides in Syria’s civil war. The deal ended a crushing Russian-backed government offensive in Idlib province.
Syria’s government, which agreed to the Russia-Turkey negotiated truce, has vowed to restore control over territory it lost during the 10-year conflict.
Northwestern Syria is home to some 4 million people, many of them displaced by the civil war that has killed a half million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, including more than 5 million who are refugees outside the country.
In February last year at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike in Idlib, leading to massive Turkish retaliation against pro-government forces.