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Syria: Russian warplanes 'kill seven pro-Turkish rebels' near Afrin

Air strikes outside northern town come just days before Turkish president set to meet Russian counterpart in Sochi
Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters are pictured in Afrin last year (AFP)

Russian warplanes killed at least seven pro-Turkish rebels on Sunday during an air raid in northern Syria, according to a UK-based activist group and local media.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Moscow struck a "military" base for the Al-Hamza division outside the northern town of Afrin, which has been under Turkish control. 

"Seven fighters were killed, and another 13 were wounded in the Russian strikes," said the UK-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. 

The organisation said the death toll was expected to rise as civil defence forces continued to pull victims from the rubble. 

Observatory head Rami Abdurrahman said Russian raids in areas controlled by pro-Turkish militias were rare. 

'Clear message from Russia'

Last month, a Russian raid also in Afrin targeted a position held by Faylaq al-Sham, another Turkish- backed group that operates in the area, according to the Observatory. 

A spokesperson for the Syrian National Army, a coalition of Turkey-backed rebel groups, called Sunday's attack a "clear message from Russia" to Turkey, showing that there are no "red lines".

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Turkey supports Syrian rebel forces battling President Bashar al-Assad's government and has also launched multiple operations across Syria's northern border against Kurdish forces and against Islamic State.

Russia is a staunch supporter of the Syrian government and has intervened militarily in support of Assad since 2015.

Although they back opposite sides, Ankara and Moscow have worked together to broker several ceasefire deals in Syria's northwest, including a 2020 ceasefire agreement in the Idlib region, the country's last major opposition bastion.

The attacks come just days before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Sochi to meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 29 September.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing violence in Syria.