By Yesim Sert Karaaslan and Hamdi Celikbas
ANKARA (AA) - A Turkish soldier was martyred in an attack by forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Monday.
The ministry announced on Twitter that Turkish soldiers who had been sent as reinforcements to Idlib to prevent conflicts had come under artillery fire from regime forces.
It said one Turkish soldier was martyred and another was injured in the attack.
"Turkey retaliated against the attack with full force and regime targets were heavily struck and destroyed,” said the ministry.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar posted a message of condolence on his Twitter account.
"We buried you not in the ground, but in our hearts. Turkey is grateful to you," he said.
Akar said he extended his condolences to the family of the martyr and to the Turkish nation.
Idlib is home to four million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.
In recent months, nearly 1.7 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks by forces of the Assad regime and its allies.
In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression were expressly prohibited.
But since then, more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes and shelling by the regime and its allies.
On Sunday, Turkey announced a new offensive, Operation Spring Shield, in northwestern Syria to protect civilians from regime attacks.
It came after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred and dozens injured in an Assad regime airstrike in the de-escalation zone just across Turkey’s southern border on Feb. 27.
Turkish soldiers are working to protect local civilians under the September 2018 deal with Russia.
*Writing by Fahri Aksut