Operation to Retake Syria's Raqqa From Daesh May Begin in Spring

Meanwhile, Turkish troops, backing Syrian opposition fighters, have pushed their way from the western part of the town, entering the outskirts of al-Bab.

Earlier in the day, the Turkish General Staff said that an accidental Russian airstrike killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded 11 others in northern Syria. We acted upon the coordinates given by Turkish side.

"Turkish Armed Forces have been mutually and regularly sharing plans of action with Russian Federation within the agreement signed between Russian Federation and Turkey on January 12, 2017", he said.

President Vladimir Putin promptly called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to express regrets over what the Russian leader called a "tragic incident".

Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield was launched on August 24, 2017 with the aim of ridding its borders of the presence of terrorist groups including Daesh and the YPG, a Syrian-offshoot of the PKK, which the USA and Ankara designate as a terrorist group.

Turkish troops, in collaboration with Syrian rebels, have entered the "Islamic State" (IS) stronghold of Al-Bab, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Turkey's border.

Syria is now split into areas controlled by one of four factions; ISIL, the Syrian government, the Free Syrian army, and the Kurds.

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Erdogan stressed that Turkey's incursion will not end with al-Bab, "which is not our final target".

"I hope that isolation will be completed by the spring and then operations to liberate Raqqa itself can begin thereafter", Fallon told reporters in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said earlier this week that clashes with Syrian forces had been avoided thanks to worldwide coordination, including that between Turkey and Russian Federation.

Al-Bab is key to Erdogan's "safe zone" plan which he says would help prevent people fleeing from Syria and allow those who had crossed the border into Turkey to go home.

There was no immediate comment from Damascus on the reported clashes.

It was not immediately clear whether the confrontation described by the sources had taken place in the same area as the air strike that killed the Turkish soldiers.

  • Megan Austin