Turkey on Friday raised the death toll from a Syrian government airstrike on its forces in northwestern Syria to 54 this month.
It was the largest death toll for Turkey in a single day since it first intervened in Syria in 2016.
The deaths, which came in an attack late Thursday, were a serious escalation in the direct conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces that has been waged since early February.
Shortly after the attack, U.N. Secretary-General reiterated his call for an immediate cease-fire and expressed serious concern about the risk to civilians from escalating military actions,,”.
“Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour,” Dujarric said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held an emergency security meeting in Ankara late on Thursday, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Meanwhile Turkish Foreign Minister Mevult Cavusoglu spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg by telephone.
Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrians and under a 2016 deal with the European Union agreed to step up efforts to halt the flow of refugees to Europe.
Since then Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to “open the gates” in several disputes with European states.
Turkey will no longer stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe, a senior Turkish official said, as Ankara responded on Friday to the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in an air strike by Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region.
Some one million civilians have been displaced near the Turkish border since December as Russia-backed Syrian government forces seized territory from Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, marking the worst humanitarian crisis in the nine-year war.
In anticipation of the imminent arrival of refugees from Idlib, Turkish police, coastguard and border security officials have been ordered to stand down on refugees’ land and sea crossings, the Turkish official told Reuters.
“We have decided, effectively immediately, not to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
“All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union.”
The threat to open the way for refugees to Europe would, if executed, reverse a pledge Turkey made to the European Union in 2016 and could quickly draw Western powers into the standoff over Idlib and stalled negotiations between Ankara and Moscow.