Ankara hits Syrian positions after soldiers killed in Idlib, social media blocked in Turkey

A Turkey-backed Syrian fighter stands in the town of Saraqib in the eastern part of the Idlib province in northwestern Syria, on Feb. 27, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 28 February 2020

Ankara hits Syrian positions after soldiers killed in Idlib, social media blocked in Turkey

LONDON: At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed after Syrian government forces fired airstrikes in Idlib on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

The airstrike took place in an area between the towns Baluon and Al-Bara in Idlib, and was a response to Turkey-backed opposition forces recapturing the strategic town of Saraqeb earlier on Thursday.

Turkey retaliated with strikes against the regime, the presidency announced early Friday. 

"Known targets of the regime have come and will continue to come under fire from the air and ground," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said in a statement.

"We urge the international community to fulfil its responsibilities," Altun added.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan chaired an emergency security meeting late on Thursday to evaluate the latest developments in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, two Turkish security sources said.

The local governor of the southeastern Turkish province of Hatay announced the death toll early Friday.

Rahmi Dogan said none of the remaining wounded soldiers were in critical condition.

Russia's Defence Ministry said the Turkish troops hit by shelling should not have been in the Syrian area where they were and that Ankara had not informed Moscow in advance about their location, the RIA news agency reported.
The ministry said, however, that Russian war planes had not carried out strikes in the area where Turkish troops were and that Russia had done everything to ensure the Syrian army ceased fire to allow the troops to evacuate.

Russia is sending two warships equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles to the Mediterranean Sea towards the Syrian coast, the Interfax news agency cited Russia's Black Sea Fleet as saying on Friday.

The United States on Thursday demanded that the Syrian regime and its ally Russia end their "despicable" operation in Idlib province

"We stand by our NATO ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces," a State Department spokesperson said.

"We are looking at options on how we can best support Turkey in this crisis."

Major social media platforms and messaging apps appeared to be blocked across Turkey on Thursday evening, said NetBlocks, a civil society group which monitors digital services globally. 

The group said: “Social platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram became unreachable at 11:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. UTC) via national provider Turk Telecom (AS9121) and subsequently other leading service providers. Data show that YouTube and WhatsApp messaging backend servers were also partially restricted at the same time or shortly after. The restrictions are technically consistent with techniques used to filter content in Turkey,” in a report Thursday.

The United Nations on Thursday called for urgent action in northwest Syria, warning that "the risk of greater escalation grows by the hour."

"The Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate ceasefire and expresses particular concern about the risk to civilians from escalating military actions," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

"Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on Thursday that Russian-backed government forces had seized full control of southern Idlib province after fresh advances against the rebels.

Government forces have seized about 60 towns and villages in the southern Idlib area and the adjoining province of Hama in the last three days, the Observatory said.

Wife of British-born ‘aid worker’ demands Syria rebels release him

Updated 1 min 7 sec ago

Wife of British-born ‘aid worker’ demands Syria rebels release him

  • Tauqir Sharif, 33, was detained on June 22 by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS)
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sharif was detained over his alleged ties with rival rebels

ATME: The wife of a self-described aid worker stripped of his British nationality has called for his release after he was detained by rebels in Syria’s last major rebel bastion.
Tauqir Sharif, 33, was detained on June 22 by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a dominant group in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib, his supporters say.
“We haven’t been given anything from HTS to even say what the allegations are” against him, his wife Racquell Hayden Best told AFP in the town of Atme, adding that she had been scrambling for information on his detention.
“We have heard ourselves that he is innocent. If he is an innocent man, why are you holding him in prison?” she asked.
Sharif, whose father is originally from Pakistan, hails from Chingford on the eastern outskirts of London and first arrived in Syria in 2012, according to the Live Updates From Syria organization he founded with his wife.
Britain stripped him of his British nationality in 2017, accusing him of links to an Al-Qaeda-aligned group it did not specify, the British press has said, but Sharif has denied the allegation.
HTS has not commented on Sharif’s detention, which comes at a time of heightened tensions between the group and other fighters in the Idlib region.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Sharif was detained over his alleged ties with rival rebels.
A fragile cease-fire has since March stemmed a Russia-backed regime offensive against Idlib.
The region is home to some three million people, a large proportion of whom have been displaced from their homes by Syria’s nine-year-old war and are dependent on humanitarian aid.