Turkey counterattacks after Syrian shells killed Turkish troops

* Ankara and Moscow support opposing sides in the Idlib region * Turkey has 12 observation posts in northwestern Syria * Erdogan says 30-35 Syrians neutralized in retaliation * Turkey told Russia to step aside, says Erdogan * Russia says it was not notified about Turkey's operations (Add the Russian air attack, comment from the Kremlin) By Orhan Coskun and Daren Butler ANKARA/ISTANBUL, Feb. 3 (Reuters) - Turkey said Monday that its army hit dozens of Syrian government targets after five Turkish soldiers were shot dead in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, where fighting threatens to put Try the ties between Ankara and Moscow. Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides in the fighting in Idlib and, although they work together in other parts of Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said Russian officials were told they should stay out of the conflict around Idlib. Erdogan said the initial indications showed that between 30 and 35 Syrians were killed in operations that included the use of F-16 fighter jets and that they responded to what Turkey called an intense bombardment of its troops in Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold after almost nine years of war in Syria. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian air power, have made great strides in Idlib, which has led Turkey to warn that it can launch a military operation there unless the fight stops. We are determined to continue our operations for the security of our country, the people and our brothers in Idlib. Those who question our determination will soon understand that they made a mistake, Erdogan said in Istanbul before flying to Kiev. Speaking later in the Ukrainian capital, he said that the events in Idlib had become unmanageable. The Syrian Observatory, a war monitor based in Britain, said 13 members of the Syrian government forces had died in Turkish bombings. A Syrian state television correspondent said there had been no casualties among his government forces. Erdogan accuses Russia of violating a 2017 agreement to reduce fighting in the region and accuses Russia of denying it. Ankara and Moscow conduct joint patrols in northeastern Syria and it is not clear whether such cooperation would be affected or not by tensions in Idlib ties. Meanwhile, closer military ties between Turkey and Russia, a member of NATO, have alarmed Washington and other Western allies. In recent days, Turkey has sent military vehicles, trucks and other reinforcements to the region in a challenge to Damascus and its Russian sponsors. The rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, some of whom have been backed by Turkey, have also launched counterattacks against the territorial gains of Assad's forces. SHELLING IN THE AREA OF SARAQEB A Turkish security official told Reuters that the bombings that killed the Turkish soldiers were in the Saraqeb area, a city 15 km (9 miles) east of the city of Idlib that is at the junction of two roads principal of which Damascus wants to gain total control. Turkey's defense ministry said reinforcements had been moving around Idlib. They intended to avoid clashes in Idlib, but were hit by Syrian bombing, he said, adding that a civilian member of his forces was also killed. The Russian defense ministry said the Turkish units were attacked by Syrian government forces after moving without notifying Russia, although Turkey said it had coordinated its military movements with Moscow. Although Erdogan said the fighter planes were involved in Turkey's response, the Russian defense ministry said the Turkish planes had not violated the Syrian border and that no air strikes had been recorded against Syrian troops. A spokesman said the Kremlin was still worried about militant groups around Seraqeb, where Turkish forces were attacked. The struggle in Idlib has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. Civil defense in rebel-controlled territory said at least nine Syrian civilians, including four children, died Monday in a Russian air raid on a van carrying displaced people near the city of Aleppo, northeast of Saraqeb. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria, fears a new wave of Idlib migrants. In Kiev, Erdogan said there were about 1 million people in Idlib marching to the Turkish borders as a result of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive. (Additional report by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Written by Jonathan Spicer; Edition of William Maclean, Giles Elgood and Timothy Heritage) This story has not been edited by The Times of India and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed to which we subscribe. (This story has not been edited by timesofindia.com and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed to which we subscribe.)

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