Damascus angered by Turkish army convoy heading for key Syria town

Map of current territorial control in Khan Shaykhun city as of Monday morning

Map of current territorial control in Khan Shaykhun city as of Monday morning

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said the convoy was stuck on a highway after air strikes prevented it from continuing southwards.

Idlib province is the last major part of Syria largely controlled by various armed groups, some of them hardcore jihadists.

An airstrike killed three civilians and injured 12 others during a transfer to Turkey's observation point in Syria's Idlib, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Monday.

The Damascus regime denounced the convoy's crossing over from Turkey.

Most of Idlib province and parts of neighbouring Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces have been under the control of Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham since January.

It was not immediately clear whether it was Syrian government or Russian warplanes that struck near the convoy but the development marked a sharp escalation in tensions in the northwestern province of Idlib where Syrian troops have been on the offensive for weeks.

There was no immediate comment from Ankara, which backs some of the rebel factions in the northwest and has deployed forces into Idlib province under deals with Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's most powerful ally.

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Overnight, Syrian army troops reached the edges of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a rebel official and a monitor said.

The Russian government had been supplied with "advance information" about the convoy's route, the ministry said. The convoy had set out for the Turkish observation post at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, and was attacked from the air shortly before 9 a.m.

The report said the convoy could not proceed because the route between Maaret al Numan and Khan Sheikhoun was targeted, and sheltered at a safe location.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry called the convoy's incursion a "flagrant Turkish intervention", saying it had reached Saraqeb, a town north of Khan Sheikoun early on Monday.

The Syrian news agency SANA said it was carrying weapons and ammunition to "terrorist forces" in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Khan Sheikhun was hit by a chemical attack that killed more than 80 people in April 2017, attributed to the Syrian regime by the United Nations and worldwide experts. The region is home to 3 million people, many of them displaced by other battles around the war-torn country.

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