turkish soldier
© REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
FILE PHOTO
At least 33 Turkish servicemen have been killed in an airstrike in Syria's Idlib province, while an unspecified number of soldiers were injured. Turkish officials attributed the strike to the Syrian military.

"In Idlib, Turkey's armed forces were targeted by the regime elements in an airstrike," Hatay province Governor Rahmi Dogan told the media late on Thursday. While he originally said that nine soldiers had been killed, minutes later the death toll was revised to 33, the Turkish Anadolu Agency (AA) reported, citing the governor.

More Turkish servicemen have been injured in the airstrike, but their number is so far unclear. Dogan's statement comes amid a high-level Turkish security meeting, reportedly chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and presumably focused on the incident.

Unverified reports swirled on social media Thursday, claiming that dozens of Turkish troops were killed in a "Russian" airstrike, that dozens more were injured, and that the hospitals in Hatay were struggling to cope with the influx of the wounded. None of this has so far been confirmed by Ankara.

Speaking to Anadolu, Dogan stressed that there was no shortage of blood at the hospitals, noting that medics have been "taking all necessary interventions" to treat the wounded.

Erdogan's press secretary Fahrettin Altun told reporters in the early hours of Friday that Turkey is "responding" to the "illegitimate regime that has pointed the gun at our soldiers," by launching air and artillery strikes against Syrian targets. Altun even described the events in Idlib as a genocide, saying Turkey will not allow the repetition of "what happened in Rwanda and Bosnia" there. "The blood of our heroic soldiers will not be left on the ground," Altun said, according to AA.

"Our activities on the ground in Syria will continue until the hands reaching for our flag are broken."

Turkish officials have called the NATO secretary-general and the US national security adviser in relation to the events in Idlib, Anadolu reported.

The situation in Idlib, the last remaining militant stronghold in Syria, has escalated dramatically in the recent weeks with Damascus ramping up its offensive against Islamist militants to reclaim strategic towns, which prompted Turkish military to send thousands of its own troops and hardware to back its allies, fighting against the forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hatay is the Turkish province bordering Idlib.

While Ankara ruled out its pullout from Idlib, demanding Russia withdraws its support from advancing Syrian troops instead, Moscow has accused Turkey of supporting militants there in violation of the previously agreed arrangement to set up a de-escalation zone.

Shortly before Turkey's announcement, the Russian military accused the Turkish side of using "artillery fire" as well as "reconnaissance and attack drones" to target the Syrian army positions, without specifying when the strikes have taken place.