27, including 2 Turkish soldiers, die in Syria clashes

Rebel fighters fire a missile towards Syrian government positions in Idlib. (AP pic)

BEIRUT: Clashes pitting Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies against pro-regime forces left 27 fighters dead Thursday including two Turkish soldiers in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, a war monitor reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 11 pro-regime fighters and 14 on the rebel side were killed as well as the two Turkish soldiers.

Ankara’s defence ministry likewise reported two Turkish soldiers killed in an air strike in the Idlib region.

The Observatory said Syrian rebels backed by Turkish artillery fire had seized the Nayrab area between provincial capital Idlib and the key regime-controlled town of Saraqeb.

They withdrew following several hours of clashes and dozens of Russian and regime air strikes, it said.

The Observatory added that jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham also targeted Syrian government forces in Nayrab.

Turkish forces also fired artillery at Saraqeb, a regime-controlled town on a key highway from Damascus to Aleppo, it said.

Both the Turks and the Syrian government claimed the other side had been defeated.

Syrian government and allied forces have in recent weeks conducted a devastating offensive, with Russian backing, to flush out the last rebel enclave in the country.

The area hosts some three million people, many of them displaced by violence elsewhere.

The assault has allowed the regime to reclaim swathes of territory in the south of Idlib province and in neighbouring Aleppo province.

The fighting has also caused an unprecedented wave of displacement, with around 900,000 people – more than half of them children – forced to flee their homes and shelters since December, according to UN figures.