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Airstrike on Turkish Soldiers in Northern Syria on 1st Anniversary of Downing of Russian Warplane | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Turkish army tanks and military personal are stationed in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters

Ankara- Ankara pledged on Thursday to retaliate to an airstrike launched by the Syrian regime near the city of al-Bab in northern Syria, which left three Turkish soldiers dead and more than 10 injured.

Meanwhile, sources hinted to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that a Russian flag was seen flying when the airstrike was launched.

The airstrike took place around 3:30 am on Thursday. Later during the day, Turkey’s Prime Minister Benali Yildirim held a press conference in the capital Ankara to comment on the assault.

“It is clear that some people are not happy with this battle Turkey has been fighting against ISIS. This attack will surely draw retaliation,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the Turkish military said an airstrike that it “assessed to have been carried out by Syrian regime forces” has killed three soldiers, becoming the first Turkish victims killed by the regime since Turkey launched on Aug. 24 its Euphrates Shield Operation to support units from the Free Syrian Army.

The attack also came on the first anniversary of Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane over Syria, which prompted a lengthy diplomatic rift between Moscow and Ankara that only ended in August.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last Wednesday that the Turkish-backed forces were close to taking the city of al-Bab, the last stronghold of ISIS in the northern Aleppo countryside. The president said his forces would attack Manbij and later Raqqa.

Forces allied to head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, warned Turkey last month against making any advance toward their positions to the north and east of Aleppo.

Turkish sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Thursday’s airstrike leaves several question marks regarding its timing. The sources said Russia controls the airspace in the area and that Moscow coordinates with Ankara as part of the Euphrates Shield Operation and within the tripartite coordination committees between the Army, the Intelligence and the foreign ministries of both countries.

Turkish political expert Mohammed Oshak did not rule out a possibility that Russia could have been informed about the airstrike, adding that Turkey coordinates well with the active parties in the Syrian crisis.

Since Turkey launched Euphrates Shield, Syrian opposition factions have been able to liberate an estimated 1,820 square kilometers of territories out of a total 5,000 square kilometers that Turkey plans to liberate before establishing its buffer zone.