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Syria bomb attack 'wounds Russian and Turkish soldiers' on joint patrol

Three Russians and several Turks hurt in huge blast on Idlib province's M4 highway, Moscow says
A fireball erupts from the site of an explosion reportedly targeting a joint Turkish-Russian patrol on the M4 highway, near the Syrian town of Ariha (AFP)

Russian and Turkish soldiers have reportedly been wounded by a roadside bomb that struck their convoy during a joint patrol in Syria's Idlib province, Russia's defence ministry said on Tuesday.

Three Russians and several Turkish soldiers were wounded, Russia's RIA news agency quoted the ministry as saying.

A Middle East Eye journalist reported Turkish vehicles are now trying to pull out the damaged Russian vehicle following a huge explosion on the M4 motorway near the northwestern Syrian city of Ariha.

Turkish vehicles attempt to retrieve a Russian vehicle on the M4 highway after bomb attack (MEE/Ahmad Fallaha)
Turkish vehicles attempt to retrieve a Russian vehicle on the M4 highway after the bomb attack (MEE/Ahmad Fallaha)

Turkey's Defence Ministry confirmed in a statement that at least two vehicles had been partly damaged but that no loss of life occurred. 

Russia's defence ministry meanwhile said it called off the patrol after the blast near the town of Ariha in Idlib province damaged one Russian and one Turkish armoured personal carrier. 

The statement added three Russian soldiers were "lightly injured" and that a number of Turkish soldiers had been wounded but two sources told Reuters there were no Turkish casualties in the attack. 

Russia was evacuating its equipment from the area and moving its troops to the Hmeimim airbase where some of them would receive treatment, the Russian statement said.

Turkey and Russia, who both back opposite sides of the Syrian civil war, agreed to carry out joint patrols following a ceasefire agreement aimed at stopping weeks of clashes that brought the two sides close to a direct confrontation. 

These latest patrols were organised to take place in the "de-escalation zone" and be a buffer between government forces and opposition fighters in the last major bastion of anti-government forces.

Head of Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, told AFP that several explosion were heard as the patrol passed in Ariha. 

The blast occurred "despite Turkish forces having heavily combed the area 24 hours before the joint patrol set off on the road separating areas controlled by the rebels from those held by government forces, according to the ceasefire".

Bomb hits Russian-Turkish patrol in Idlib
A Turkish infantryman sweeps the area after a bomb hit a Russian-Turkish patrol in Idlib province (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)

"After Tuesday's attack, Moscow's warplanes launched several air strikes on jihadist positions in the countryside of Latakia province," said the Observatory.

Residents and a network of plane spotters who document the sight of fighter jets told Reuters that Russian jets struck several opposition-held areas in response to the attack on the joint patrol. 

Civil defence groups said five civilians were injured in the strikes.

The Observatory said the joint patrols had not been able to "circulate the entire length of the road as stipulated in the ceasefire agreement" since its inception. 

It added that protests by local residents and intervention by militants opposed to the patrols had previously prevented them from advancing but "without them ever being targeted like this".