ANKARA (Reuters) - Russian fighter jets have hit three Islamic State targets around the northern Syrian town of al-Bab over the past 24 hours, the Turkish military said on Friday, in what appeared to be the first Russian support for Turkish army operations in the area.
The strikes came as a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, brokered by Russia and Turkey which back opposing sides in the conflict, got off to a shaky start at midnight. The ceasefire does not include Islamic State.
NATO member Turkey launched an incursion into Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield”, more than four months ago to drive Islamic State away from its border. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have besieged al-Bab for several weeks as part of the offensive.
In a daily round-up of its operations in the region, the Turkish military said it had information that 12 Islamic State fighters had been killed in the air strikes around al-Bab. It said the targets were in the town and directly to its south.
Turkey on Monday called on the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State to provide air support for the operation around al-Bab, which has not so far been forthcoming.
That call came hours after the Turkish military said 30 civilians were killed and many wounded as Islamic State launched an attack in al-Bab to stop people fleeing.
Turkey and the United States are at odds over the role of Kurdish militia fighters in northern Syria, who have frontlines close to al-Bab. Turkey views them as a hostile force, but they have received U.S. backing in the fight against Islamic State.
With Euphrates Shield, Turkey aims to prevent the Kurdish YPG militia from joining up cantons it already controls along the Turkish border, fearing that would embolden Kurdish separatism inside Turkey.
In separate fighting, the army said a Turkish soldier was killed and five wounded in an Islamic State attack south of al Azraq to the west of al-Bab. Turkish jets also hit areas around al-Bab and Daglabash, destroying 17 Islamic State targets and killing 26 militants.
The Turkish army said a total of 1,171 Islamic State fighters and 291 Kurdish militants had been killed since the start of its Syria incursion.
Turkish-backed forces have so far secured 1,860 square km (720 square miles) of territory in Syria, it said, reaching as far as the northern and western borders of al-Bab.
Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Louise Ireland
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