33 Turkish soldiers killed, 36 wounded in Syria's Idlib - live blog

Thirty three Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian government forces shelling and Russian aerial bombardment in Syria's last rebel-held province of Idlib late on Thursday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held an urgent meeting with security officials following the reports of attacks on Turkish troops in Idlib.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) also called for an urgent central committee meeting on the issue.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have made major advances in Idlib recently. Twenty-one Turkish soldiers were killed this month by Syrian shelling in the region and almost one million people have flocked to areas near the Turkish border, fleeing the Syrian government advance on the region.

Turkey started transferring tanks and troops to areas in Idlib seized by Syrian forces since the end of December.

The attacks on Turkish troops in Idlib followed recapture of the strategic town of Saraqeb from the Syrian army by Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military.

“The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s gangs,” Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front, said in a statement reported by Reuters. Other rebel sources also confirmed the advance to Reuters.

It is the first significant reverse for the Russian-backed Syrian army in its campaign to retake the last rebel-held Idlib region in Syria. The armed opposition had lost the key northwestern town three weeks ago.

Saraqeb is situated at the junction of a major highway linking the region to the Mediterranean, and the M5 highway, Syria’s main north-south road, linking the capital of Damascus and its second largest city of Aleppo.

04:07 - U.S. says it stands by Turkey following airstrike on Turkish soldiers in Idlib

“We stand by our NATO Ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iranian-backed forces,” a State Department representative said in a statement to Reuters. 

03:30 - Turkey requests military consultation from NATO, citing security threats

Turkey requested a military consultation among NATO members, citing the alliance's Article Four, which calls for military consultation when one member state’s security is threatened, Wall Street Journal said, citing a Western official.

"A meeting of the organization’s leadership is expected on Friday," the official said.

03:20 - Protest at Russian embassy in Istanbul agaisnt Idlib attack

Around 100 Turks held a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Istanbul to demonstrate against Moscow's support for the Syrian government after the deadly attack in Idlib.

03:00 - Turkish aircraft took off from southeastern Diyarbakır

Several Turkish F-16 fighter jets have left the airbase in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır after the attack in Idlib, pro-government daily Sabah said.

02:50 - NATO head condemns Idlib attacks by pro-Damascus forces

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the attacks carried out by the Syrian government and its strongest ally, Russia, in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the Daily Sabah newspaper said.

02:30 - Main opposition calls parliament for a closed session

Republican People’s Party (CHP) spokesman Faiz Öztrak called for a closed session in parliament, after the party held an extraordinary meeting at their headquarters, Cumhuriyet newspaper said.

“With dozens of martyrs, the parliament should not remain silent,” Öztrak said in a statement, not taking any questions from reporters. “It is others who need to answer questions,” the spokesman said.

02:15 - Number of killed Turkish soldiers rises to 29, Hatay governor says

Hatay Governor Rahmi Doğan updated the Turkish soldier death toll to 29, with another 36 wounded in an air strike by Syrian government forces in Idlib, Syria.

02:10 - Turkey could close air space, Bosporus Straits to Russia, journalist says

Hakan Çelik, a high-profile pro-government journalist, said Turkey could close or limits its air space and Bosporus Straits to Russia in case Moscow intervenes in Turkey's military operation against the Syrian army.

02:05 - U.S. will not risk war with Russia to support Turkey, former U.S. official says

Alan Makovsky, former senior professional staff member at U.S. Congress, said that the United States will not take the risk to go to war with to preserve Turkey's position in Syria.

"Hope US officials’ frequently stated support for 'our NATO ally Turkey' of late isn’t raising false expectations in Ankara," he said.

02:00 - At least 50 Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib - Der Spiegel

At least 50 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib in the recent attack, Der Spiegel said, citing a Turkish official.

"At least 50 Turkish soldiers had died, a Turkish official told. At first, it was unclear whether the attacks had been launched by the Syrian or Russian military," Der Spiegel said.

01:40 - U.S. ambassador to NATO comments on Idlib air strike

U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson said she hoped Turkey saw who its allies were, when asked by reporters to comment on the reports of Turkish casualties.

“I hope that President Erdoğan will see that we are the ally of their past & their future,” Hutchinson said.

"This is going to be a refugee crisis, a human crisis, because these people have nowhere to go, and they will try to go into Turkey, but these people are – we’ve called on Russia, we’ve called on Syria, but the Turks are the ones that are trying to keep the – Assad from really attacking these people again," U.S. Ambassador said.

The envoy called on Turkey to drop the activation of the Russian-sold S-400 air defence system. “They see what Russia is, they see what they are doing now,” she said.

Hutchinson said the United States wanted Turkey to understand that Washington is the one that Ankara has been allied with.

"And if the Russians have attacked the Turkish troops, that – I don’t know the circumstances. I’m not looking to the future at all, because I’ve just learned this, so I can’t say anything more than this certainly is a huge change," she said.

Ambassador Hutchinson added, "Let me say this, because I just learned this: Of course everything is on the table. This is a new development. This is a big development, and our alliance is with Turkey. It is not with Russia; it is with Turkey."

01:35 - Israel attacks Syrian military positions around Golan Heights

Israeli helicopters targetted military positions of the Syrian government in Quneitra province from the airspace of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, state-run news agency Sana said.

Three Syrian soldiers were wounded in the attack, according to Sana.

01:30 - Turkey's Presidential Spokesman holds phone call with U.S. National security advisor

Turkey's Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalın held a phone call with U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O. Brian following the attack in Idlib.

01:20 - Turkey hits Syrian positions in Idlib

Turkey's presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey was hitting Syrian government positions in Idlib by ground and air.

"Determined positions are under fire," Altun said.

"Turkey has decided to give a retaliation in kind," he added.

01:05 - Turkish authorities launch investigation into several social media accounts 

Turkish authorities have launched an investigation into several Turkish social media accounts over their criticism of the government after the attack.

Some 91 accounts so far are being investigated over their reactions to today's crisis.

01:00 - EU Turkey rapporteur sends condolences to Turkey 

Turkey rapporteur for the European Parliament (EP) Nacho Sánchez Amor sends condolences to the Turkish government on Thursday and said Europe should stand by ally Turkey against the Syrian government’s attacks in the Idlib province.

00:40 - Twenty-two Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib, Hatay governor says

Rahmi Doğan, the governor of the southern province of Hatay, said 22 Turkish soldiers were killed and several wounded in Idlib.

The number of killed Turkish soldiers has risen from nine to 22 within an hour.

"In Idlib, Syrian regime forces attacked Turkish army elements. As a result of this attack, 22 of our soldiers have been martyred," Doğan said.

00:30 - Turkey will not block Syrian refugee passage to Europe, senior official says

Turkey decided not to stop refugees from going to Europe after the Syrian army's attack on Turkish troops in Idlib, Reuters said, citing a senior Turkish official.

00:25 -  Good Party leader speaks with Erdoğan
Nationalist Good Party leader Meral Akşener spoke on the phone with Erdoğan about the developments in Idlib, Evrensel newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chairman Devlet Bahçeli was quoted as saying he was following developments at party headquarters.

00:20 - Turkish foreign minister talks NATO secretary general on phone

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held a phone call with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on phone on Thursday following the attack in Idlib, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

00:15 - At least 34 Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib on Thursday - SOHR

At least 34 Turkish soldiers were killed during airstrikes in Idlib on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

"The airstrike took place in an area between the towns Baluon and Al-Bara in Idlib, and was a response to Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military recapturing the strategic town of Saraqeb earlier on Thursday."

00:10 - U.S. Senator Graham to take action for no-fly zone in Idlib

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has called on U.S. President Donald Trump to establish a no-fly zone in Idlib to stop further attacks on civilians, Pentagon correspondent Jack Detsch said.

00:05 - Nine Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib, Hatay governor says

Rahmi Doğan, the governor of the southern province of Hatay, said nine Turkish soldiers were killed and several wounded in Idlib, NTV reported.

"We transferred our wounded through the Cilvegözü border gate to Turkey. Their treatments continue," Doğan said.

24:00 - Access to Twitter lost after attack on Turkish troops in Idlib

Twitter has become unavailable across Turkey immediately after attacks on Turkish troops in Idlib for users of national provider Turk Telekom, Netblocks.org said.

23:59 – Security meeting held at presidential palace

A security meeting was held at the presidential palace, chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, state-run Anadolu Agency said.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a security meeting with his staff. The meeting, which began 2 hours ago, was held at the Presidential Palace,” Anadolu said.

23:45 - Several bodies taken to hospital in Hatay 

Multiple bodies and wounded people have been brought to Turkey's southern province of Hatay's Reyhanlı district, neighbouring Idlib.

"A big crowd waits outside the hospital as well as security personnel," Dokuz8 news site said.

23:40 - Russia announces downing of Turkish drone

The Russian Defence Ministry late Thursday accused Turkey of sending strike drones and providing artillery fire to support the rebels in Syria’s Idlib province, thereby violating the Sochi agreement it made with Russia, Reuters said.

The ministry said a Turkish strike drone had illegally entered Syrian airspace on Tuesday and been destroyed by Syrian government air defences.

23:30 - Main opposition leader slams Erdoğan over Turkish presence in Idlib

Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the presence of the Turkish army in Idlib following a deadly attack on troops on Thursday.

"Erdogan wants the regime to withdraw from its own territory, is not this nonsense?" Kılıçdaroğlu said. "If the reason for our existence there is to overthrow Assad, they should say it openly. You are not saying this. So why are we staying there?"