Turkish forces kill three HTS members in Syria, recruit 10,000 mercenaries for Libya – SOHR

A Turkish drone strike killed three and wounded two members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Syria’s northwestern Aleppo province on Sunday, following an attack by the jihadist group on Turkish positions, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the war monitor reported Turkey had recruited nearly 10,000 Syrian mercenaries to join the country’s military operations in war-torn Libya.

The tit-for-tat moves came after Turkish forces near the town of Al-Nayrab dispersed a sit-in protesting a ceasefire agreement between Turkey and staunch Syria backer Russia.

The escalation turned violent when protesters threw stones and the military turned to live rounds, killing four in the process, including members of HTS, an Islamist militant group led by a former al-Qaeda affiliate, the Observatory said.

The jihadist group retaliated by attacking Turkish positions near Al-Nayrab, resulting in at least two Syrians killed and one Turkish soldier wounded, said security analyst Metin Gürcan.

“HTS (extremists) attacked our soldiers with anti-tank missiles (this is the first time)” Gürcan tweeted.

The Turkish Defence Ministry did not immediately comment on Sunday's events.

Turkey and Russia launched joint military patrols earlier this month along the M4 highway – connecting Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo provinces – as part of a ceasefire agreement made on March 5 by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to end the fighting in the northwestern Idlib province between Turkish-backed forces and the Syrian military.

Tensions surfaced between Ankara and its Syrian allies as result of the deal, the latter believing Turkey had accommodated Russia in the deal and did not appropriately represent their interests. Russian-Turkish joint military patrols have reportedly met with protesters blocking their paths on the M4 highway.

Meanwhile, Ankara has shipped 7,400 Syrian mercenaries to Libya, with another some 2,500 arriving in Turkey to undergo training, the Observatory said, quoting sources.

“The participation of Turkish-backed mercenaries helped in tipping the scales of battles in western Libya in their favour,” it said, referring to developments in the conflict between the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, supported by Turkey, and the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Hundreds of fighters from the Syrian National Army, a Turkish-backed rebel coalition operating in northern Syria, are preparing to relocate to Turkey for training, the Observatory said, adding that factions which refused to send manpower for Libya operations were met with fund suspensions and other restrictions.

The death toll for “Turkish-backed Syria proxies” in Libya is 223, according the monitoring group.