Turkey, faced with a new wave of Syrian migrants and 29 more dead soldiers in Idlib, will no longer stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe, a senior Turkish official said late on Thursday as President Tayyip Erdogan chaired an emergency meeting.
An air strike by Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwest Idlib region killed 29 Turkish soldiers and wounded several others, the local governor in the southeastern province of Hatay said separately early on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory, a war monitor, said the toll was 34 Turkish soldiers killed in air strikes in Idlib, where nearly a million civilians have been displaced near the Turkish border since December as Russia-backed Syrian government forces took territory.
In anticipation of the imminent arrival of refugees from Idlib, Turkish police, coast guard and border security officials have been ordered to stand down on refugees’ land and sea crossings, the Turkish official told Reuters.
Turkey hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees. Under a deal agreed in 2016, the European Union has provided billions of euros in aid in return for Ankara agreeing to stem the influx of migrants into Europe.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by relentless Russian air strikes, have pushed hard in recent months to retake the last large rebel-held region in northwest Syria after nine years of war that has displaced millions and killed hundreds of thousands.
NATO-member Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Idlib province to back its allied rebels against the offensive.
Erdogan, who has warned Turkey would push back the Syrian forces unless they pulled back, held an emergency meeting late on Thursday with his staff due to the attack, two Turkish officials said.
The Turkish presidency said the meeting in Ankara lasted two hours but gave no details.
The latest fatalities come after the Turkish military death toll in the region had already reached 21 so far this month.
Turkish and Russian officials held talks in Ankara on Thursday. Two previous rounds in Ankara and Moscow have not yielded a sought ceasefire deal.
Earlier on Thursday, Russian state television said Turkish military specialists were using shoulder-fired missiles to try to shoot down Russian and Syrian military aircraft over Idlib, a development that, if confirmed, would mark a serious escalation of the conflict.