Syria: Roadside bomb hits Russia-Turkey joint patrol

Three Russian and several Turkish soldiers were wounded, Russia's defence ministry said

A fireball erupts from the site of an explosion reportedly targeting a joint Turkis-Russian patrol on the strategic M4 highway, near the Syrian town of Ariha in the rebel-held northwestern Idlib province, on July 14, 2020. / AFP / Mohammed AL-RIFAI
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Three Russian and several Turkish soldiers were wounded on Tuesday in Syria's restive Idlib province when a joint military patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device, Russia's defence ministry said.

The device blew up at 8.50am local time (9.50 UAE time) as their convoy patrolled the M4 motorway in the southern part of a de-escalation zone, the ministry said.

A Russian and a Turkish armoured vehicle were damaged, with three Russians "lightly injured," it said. Several Turkish soldiers were also wounded.

Russia and Turkey launched the patrols along the M4 in March following a ceasefire agreement aimed at stopping heavy fighting in and around Idlib, the last major bastion of anti-government forces in Syria's civil war.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that "numerous explosions were heard as the patrol passed in a village northeast of the town of 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".

No such patrols had yet been able to circulate along the entire length of the road as stipulated in the ceasefire agreement, from the village of Tarbana in the east of Idlib province to the village of Ain Hawr in the north of Latakia province, the Observatory said.

Militants opposed to the patrols as well as protests against them had previously prevented them from advancing, but without them ever being targeted like this, it said.

Home to some three million people, the Idlib region is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir Al Sham group, an extremist outfit led by ex-leaders of Syria's former Al Qaeda affiliate, and its rebel allies.

A Russian-backed regime offensive displaced nearly a million people between December and March, but thousands have returned since the truce came into force.

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

Russia backs Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the conflict and Turkey backs the opposition, but the two countries have agreed several deals to reduce hostilities.

Syria's nine-year-old war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country's pre-war population.

It was moving its equipment from the area and sending its troops to the Hmeimim air base where some of them would receive treatment, it said.

An unconfirmed social media video of the attack circulated by Russia's RIA news agency showed a powerful explosion next to a convoy of passing armoured vehicles.

Two Turkish sources said there were no Turkish casualties in the attack.