Turkey: 2 soldiers killed in mortar fire from Syria

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A mortar attack targeting a Turkish military post near the border with Syria has killed two soldiers, Turkey’s defense ministry said Thursday.

The ministry said Turkish artillery units immediately returned fire across the border into northeastern Syria after the attack , which took place Wednesday evening near the Turkish town of Akcakale. It added that “operations” in the area were continuing.

However, an opposition group that monitors the war in Syria said the first shots were fired by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish shelling prompted a retaliatory attack from Syrian Kurdish fighters. It did not say if there were any casualties in Syria.

The differing accounts of the fighting could not immediately be verified.

Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters seized areas in northeastern Syria in a military offensive launched nearly two months ago. That offensive took control of the town of Tal Abyad, which sits just across the border from Akcakale. The Turkish incursion aimed to push Syrian Kurdish fighters away from the border. A fragile truce sponsored by Turkey and Russia had halted the fighting but has been sporadically violated.

Areas to the west of Tal Abyad are still controlled by Kurdish forces.

Turkey’s private DHA news agency reported that the Turkish border post was hit by a mortar round fired from an area near Tal Abyad. DHA said the round injured at least two other soldiers.

The Observatory said Turkish-led forces attacked two villages near Tal Abyad with rockets and shells, and that the Kurds fired back on Turkish positions.

The Kurdish-led forces did not immediately comment on the shelling.

Northern Syria has been hit by several explosions that have killed and wounded scores of people since the Turkish incursion began Oct. 9. That offensive followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the bulk of roughly 1,000 American troops from Syria, drawing bipartisan condemnation.

On Nov. 2, a car bomb killed 13 people in Tal Abyad, and explosions have hit other towns in Turkish-held areas.

Ankara views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists for their links to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey. Those Kurdish fighters had been key U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.

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