Turkey says a Syrian government airstrike on its forces in northwestern Syria Thursday night killed 33 of its troops, the highest number of Turkish soldiers killed in a single day since Ankara first intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2016. The deaths were a serious escalation in the direct conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces that has been waged since early February, the AP reports. The attack also sharply raises the risk of direct military confrontation between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia. Ambassadors from NATO countries were holding emergency talks on Friday at the request of Turkey, a member of the alliance. The Turkish stock market fell 10% in the wake of the airstrike, while the Turkish lira slid against the dollar.
Turkey said it responded to the attack by striking 200 Syrian government targets and "neutralizing" more than 300 Syrian soldiers, the BBC reports. Russia's Defense Ministry said Friday the Turkish troops that came under fire in Idlib were deployed among "terrorist battle formations" and "weren’t supposed to be" in the area. Russian air forces did not carry out airstrikes in the area, the statement added, and after receiving information about Turkish casualties, "the Russian side took all the necessary measures in order for the Syrian forces to stop the fire." In recent weeks Turkey has sent thousands of troops as well as tanks and other equipment to Idlib, the final stronghold of fighters opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
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