A suicide bomber attacked rebels backed by Turkey just outside the northwestern Syrian town of Al-Bab Friday, killing more than 40 people in a major blow just hours after they hailed its capture from ISIS.
The bomber blew up a vehicle packed with explosives outside a rebel command center in the village of Susian, eight kilometers northeast of Al-Bab, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The blast devastated the twin command posts fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner and also seriously wounded a large number of fighters, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
A rebel fighter with the Sultan Murad Brigade near Al-Bab said: “It was done on a checkpoint but there were a lot of families there gathered and waiting to get back to Al-Bab. Therefore we have many civilian casualties.”
Turkey’s Prime Minister said two Turkish soldiers were among the dead.
“There was a suicide attack which killed two of our soldiers and we have injured,” Binali Yildirim said, adding they had been carrying out road checks in the town.
The strategic town, just 25 kilometers south of the Turkish border, was the jihadists’ last stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.
Turkey sent troops into Syria last August in an operation it said targeted not only ISIS but also U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters whom it regards as terrorists. With its support, the rebels launched an offensive to take Al-Bab last year.
On Thursday afternoon, an AFP correspondent heard intermittent gunfire as rebel units continued to clear the heavily damaged town.
Also on Thursday, several Turkey-backed rebels were killed by a mine in Al-Bab while clearing the town of unexploded ordnance after ISIS retreated, the Observatory said.
The battle against the terrorist organization around the town is just one front line in the fighting in Aleppo province.
West of the second city, which regime forces took full control of in December, fighting flared with rebels in its western suburbs.
Exchanges of rocket and artillery fire first broke out on Wednesday, centered on the rebel-held district of Rashideen, the Observatory said.
The regime responded with intensive air strikes on Thursday that killed at least 32 rebel fighters.
“The regime wants to reinforce its positions around Aleppo and is using the rocket fire by the rebels as a pretext to bombard their positions and attempt to drive them out of the suburbs,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.