Three Turkish soldiers were killed in northern Syria in what the Turkish military said was a pre-dawn Syrian airstrike, an account disputed by Syrian activists, who said the soldiers were killed by an Islamic State suicide attack the day before. The Turkish military said yesterday in a statement on its website that the attack took place at 3:30 a.m., but did not provide an exact location. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said the airstrike took place near the town of al-Bab, which Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces are trying to take back from the Islamic State group.
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However, a Syrian monitoring group that tracks the conflict through a network of activists on the ground said the Turkish soldiers were killed by an IS suicide attack on Wednesday.
Rami Abdurrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the suicide attack occurred outside al-Bab, near a village called Waqqah. He dismissed reports that it was an airstrike.
The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled. There was no comment from Damascus, but the IS-run Aamaq news agency reported a suicide attack against Turkish troops in a village near al-Bab on Wednesday.
The Turkish military said 10 other soldiers were wounded in the attack, with one in critical condition.
If the attack is confirmed to be a Syrian government airstrike, it would escalate tensions with Turkey, which is a leading supporter of the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
Turkey sent ground troops into northern Syria in August to help Syrian opposition fighters battle both IS and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, which Ankara sees as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
The Turkish troops are not fighting Syrian government forces, and have not been attacked by them, though Damascus has strongly objected to the military intervention.
“It is clear that there are some who are not pleased with Turkey’s fight against Daesh,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, referring to the Arabic acronym for IS. “But of course these attacks will be responded to in kind.” Turkey’s main opposition party leader urged the government to act “with common sense” and not escalate tensions.
“This (issue) could drag Turkey toward a very dangerous process,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
Citing national security considerations, Turkish authorities imposed a temporary media ban on coverage of the attack, barring media outlets from reports that “foster fear, panic and chaos,” and contain images of the deceased or the wounded, or exaggerated accounts.