DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug 19, (AP): Airstrikes targeted a Turkish army convoy inside a rebel-held part of Syria on Monday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said, killing 3 civilians and wounding 12 others. The Syrian government, however, said the convoy entered the country carrying ammunition to help rebels who have lost ground this month amid a government offensive to retake the country’s last rebel stronghold.
The Defense Ministry gave no word on Turkish casualties, saying the convoy was attacked while heading to one of Turkey’s observation posts in the rebel-controlled Idlib province in northwestern Syria. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the convoy of armored vehicles was delivering ammunition to a major rebelheld town, Khan Sheikhoun, which lies on the front line of fighting along the southern edge of the Idlib enclave.
The town is a stronghold of the al-Qaedalinked militant group Hayat Tahrir al- Sham, the most powerful group in the rebel-held areas. The Turkish move into Idlib appears to be a message by Ankara that it will not allow Syrian forces to capture Khan Sheikhoun. Syrian government forces entered its outskirts earlier Monday. The town’s fall would also cut the highway linking Idlib to northern parts of Hama province, home to one of Turkey’s 12 observation posts on the edges of Idlib province.
It was not immediately clear whether Syrian government or Russian warplanes had struck near the convoy, but the development marked a sharp escalation in tensions in Idlib. The Turkish Defense Ministry’s brief statement did not provide further details but “strongly condemned” the airstrikes, adding that they were “against existing agreements as well as our cooperation and dialogue with Russian.” The strikes hit near the highway where the convoy was traveling, Syrian activists said. Turkey backs the rebels who have been in control of the region since 2012, while Russia backs Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, which has vowed to take back Idlib.