Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed and 32 others were injured in a Russian-backed Assad regime airstrike in northwestern Syria's Idlib Thursday, according to the governor of Hatay, Rahmi Doğan.
Gov. Doğan initially confirmed the death toll as nine but later increased the number to 22, 29 and eventually, 33. Another 32 wounded Turkish soldiers are in stable condition and are receiving treatment in hospitals, he added.
With the attack, the growing alarm in Ankara over the recent escalation of tensions reached a tipping point.
Late Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan convened an emergency national security meeting on tensions in Idlib.
Security sources told Daily Sabah that all ministers and senior officials, including the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, were present in the meeting that started at 9:30 p.m. and lasted nearly six hours.
"We are hitting, with land and air backup, all known regime targets, and will continue to do so. We'll continue our operations in Syria until the hands that attacked our flag is dealt with," Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said.
In retaliation, Turkish artillery pounded Assad regime targets along the frontline in Idlib. Turkey also carried out missile attacks on targets in Syria's central Hama, northwestern towns of Nubl and Zahraa, as well as in regime and Russian bastion, Latakia.
"All elements of the Syrian regime have now become targets. Turkey now recognizes all Assad regime elements as hostile targets," the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spokesman Ömer Çelik said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held a phone call with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg following the attack. A statement released later on Friday said Stoltenberg condemns attacks carried out by the Syrian regime and its backer Russia in Idlib, calling for an immediate halt.
Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın also held a phone call with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien.
Meanwhile, the Directorate of Communications released a statement on the Turkish offensive against Syrian regime forces.
It said Turkish forces have neutralized at least 1,709 Assad regime soldiers, as well as 55 tanks, three helicopters, 18 armored vehicles, 29 howitzers, 21 military vehicles, six ammunition depots, seven mortars, and four Soviet-made DShK heavy machine guns in the last 17 days of operations in southern Idlib.
In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
But more than 1,300 civilians have been killed in attacks by the regime and Russian forces in the de-escalation zone since then as the cease-fire continues to be violated.
More than 1 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to some intense attacks.