As tensions continue to simmer between Turkey and Russia in the north of Syria, Ankara says another Turkish soldier was killed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 34 in the last several days.
Turkey also is claiming to have killed large numbers of Syrian government forces and inflicted heavy material damage in retaliation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Russia to “get out of [Turkey’s way in] Syria” and allow it to “deal with [President Bashar al-] Assad,” in a speech to supporters Saturday. “Turkey,” he said, “has entered Syria at the demand of the Syrian people and not at the demand of Assad.”
Erdogan added that Turkey has retaliated against Syrian forces for killing 34 of its soldiers:
He claims that Turkish troops have killed more than 2,000 Syrian forces, destroyed 300 of their military vehicles and bombed a chemical weapons factory east of Aleppo.
Syrian state TV denied a chemical weapons factory had been hit, joking that “gases from such an attack would have killed several million people in Aleppo if the story were true.”
Erdogan, who attended a funeral for soldiers killed in Idlib, told mourners that “Turkey has been fighting in Syria, Libya and elsewhere, as it has done in the past, and that there will be more [soldiers killed] in the future.”
Thousands of refugees gathered Saturday along the Turkish border with Greece had to flee tear gas used by Greek forces to stop them from entering Greek soil. Erdogan said earlier in the day 18,000 refugees had entered Greece and that the number could rise to 25,000 to 30,000. He said Germany must send money to Turkey to deal with its refugee crisis, in order to stop the flow.
Inside Syria, Russian-backed Syrian government airstrikes continued around Idlib, and Syrian TV asserted it had recaptured the towns of Mansoura, Ziyara, Tel Wasel and Zayzoun Jedida from Turkish-backed rebel forces, killing a number of them and chasing them to Khan Safra in eastern Idlib.
Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that 48 Syrian troops and their allies have been killed in Turkish attacks during the past 24 hours. Arab media reported 8 Hezbollah militiamen were killed in a Turkish drone strike on their headquarters near the town of Saraqeb.
Al-Jazeera TV-Arabic showed rebel forces in control of Saraqeb, as well as a stretch of the strategic M5 highway from Damascus to Aleppo. Damascus had recently celebrated with fanfare the recapture of the last stretch of the highway.
Talks between Turkish and Russian military advisers during the past several days apparently have failed to reach a cease-fire. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists Saturday that President Erdogan will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 5.
Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar al-Jaafari told the U.N. Security Council Friday that Turkey has “failed to live up to the Sochi or Astana agreements,” in which it was “expected to rein in [rebel] forces.” Instead, he said, “Turkey has transformed its observer posts in Idlib into war operations rooms to use against Syrian and Russian forces.”