The United States on Thursday demanded that the Syrian regime and its ally Russia end their “despicable” operation in Idlib province and vowed to support Ankara after 29 Turkish soldiers were killed.
“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 spokesperson said.
“We are looking at options on how we can best support Turkey in this crisis.”
The State Department said that US officials were seeking information from their counterparts in Turkey, where an official in a border province said that 29 soldiers were killed in the airstrike in Idlib.
Reacting earlier to preliminary reports of the deaths, Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to NATO, said the incident amounted to a “huge change.”
US relations with Turkey deteriorated sharply last year over Ankara’s military intervention in Syria as well as its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system in defiance of warnings from allies in NATO, an alliance created to counter Moscow.
“I hope that President Erdogan will see that we are the ally of their past and their future and they need to drop the S-400,” Hutchison told reporters in Washington.
“They see what Russia is, they see what they’re doing now, and if they are attacking Turkish troops, then that should outweigh everything else that is happening between Turkey and Russia,” she said.
Read more: Is President Erdogan trapped in Syria?
The US says the S-400 system will hurt NATO by allowing Russia to improve its tracking of Western aircraft.
Turkey insists it will set up the S-400 in areas not frequented by US jets and it has not yet put the system into operation, giving Washington hope that Ankara may still change its mind.
NATO condemns airstirkes
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg condemned “indiscriminate” air strikes by the Assad regime and Russia after 29 Turkish soldiers were killed in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, his spokesman said Friday.
“Mr Stoltenberg condemned the continued indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime and its backer Russia in Idlib province, and called on them to stop their offensive, to respect international law and to back UN efforts for a peaceful solution,” Stoltenberg said in a call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“He urged all parties to deescalate this dangerous situation and avoid further worsening of the horrendous humanitarian situation in the region.”
Israel attacks Golan heights
At least three Syrian soldiers were wounded by Israeli helicopter fire near the annexed Golan Heights late Thursday, the official SANA agency reported.
“Israeli helicopters launched missiles above the occupied Golan Heights, hitting (Syrian) army positions at Kahtaniyeh, Al-Horiyyat and the liberated town of Quneitra, leaving three wounded among the troops,” SANA said.
It comes after a Syrian linked to the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah was killed in a cross-border Israeli drone strike earlier Thursday, a war monitor said.
The strike targeted his car in Haidar village in Quneitra province near the annexed Golan Heights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
A senior Hezbollah operative was killed on Thursday in an Israeli drone strike in Syria, according to Arab media reports.
An informed source named the man as Imad Tawil, while Syria’s official news agency SANA said he was a civilian resident of Haidar.
— Guy Elster (@guyelster) February 28, 2020
The Jewish state has carried out hundreds of strikes on regime targets as well as forces of the government’s Iranian and Hezbollah allies since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011.
On Sunday night, Israeli airstrikes near Damascus killed six pro-regime fighters, according to the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk