MOSCOW/ISTANBUL • Russian air strikes that accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers in Syria were launched based on coordinates provided to Russia by the Turkish military, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said yesterday.
The Turkish military has said the "friendly fire" incident occurred during an operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), highlighting the risk of unintended clashes between numerous outside powers in a complex war.
"Unfortunately, our military, while carrying out strikes on terrorists, was guided by coordinates given to them by our Turkish partners, and Turkish servicemen should not have been present on those coordinates," Mr Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
"It was a lack of coordination in providing coordinates - that is how I would formulate it," he said.
Speaking with reporters, Turkish Deputy Premier Numan Kurtulmus said it was important that Russian President Vladimir Putin had expressed his condolences to Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"From our side, the issue is being investigated. Initial information shows this was an accident... and an undesired incident as a result of incorrect information, coordinates," Mr Kurtulmus said in televised comments. "It has been understood that closer coordination is required, both with the coalition and with Russia."
Russia intervened to halt a clash between Syrian government forces and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in northern Syria, sources on both sides said yesterday. It was their first confrontation as both sides are fighting ISIS in the area.
Rebel officials said the clash took place in a village south-west of the ISIS-held city of Al-Bab on Thursday. An official in a military alliance fighting in support of the Syrian government confirmed the news. "The Russians intervened to control the situation," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Two rebel officials accused government forces of provoking the incident. One of them said government forces had moved towards their positions in tanks.
"Rebels shot to warn them not to get any closer, but the tank responded and a clash erupted," said the first rebel official. "Later on, Russia intervened to calm down the situation. This whole incident felt like a test."
A second rebel official, a commander in the Al-Bab area, said: "They opened fire. Fire was returned."
Both said an armoured vehicle had been captured from government forces. There was no immediate comment from Russia.
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.
Turkey and its Free Syrian Army rebel allies have been battling to capture Al-Bab since December, but escalated their attack this week, seizing the city's outskirts.
The Syrian army, meanwhile, has mounted its own rapid advance towards the city in the past few weeks, advancing to within a few kilometres of its southern outskirts.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said earlier this week that clashes with Syrian forces had been avoided thanks to international coordination, including that between Turkey and Russia.