ISTANBUL: A blast ripped through a street in the northern Syrian town of al-Rai on Sunday in what was believed to be an Islamic State suicide bombing and 12 wounded, mostly children, were brought to a hospital in nearby Turkey, security and hospital sources said.
Turkey’s army had earlier said IS militants fired a rocket into the Haliliye area of the same region that caused symptoms of “chemical gas” exposure in 22 Syrian rebels, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
The town of al-Rai, which is 2 km (1 mile) south of Turkey’s Kilis border province, is in an area under the control of Turkey-backed rebels and was seized from Islamic State militants in Ankara’s “Euphrates Shield” operation launched in August.
No further details were immediately available but the Dogan news agency cited local sources as saying it was a vehicle-borne bomb which also killed several Syrians.
The Turkey-backed rebels have for days been besieging the IS-controlled town of al-Bab, around 30 km south of al-Rai, as part of the three-month-old offensive to drive the jihadists away from the Syrian side of the Turkish border.
Some 22 rebels were transferred to a Turkish hospital on suspicion of chemical poisoning after complaining of constant sickness and severe headaches following the attack in Haliliye, the Hurriyet website reported.
“Twenty-two rebels were observed to have symptoms of being exposed to chemical gas in their eyes and bodies as a result of the rocket fired by Daesh,” media reports quoted an army statement as saying, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Turkish jets on Saturday destroyed four Islamic State targets in the Anifah region, and one Turkey-backed Syrian rebel has been killed and 14 wounded in clashes, the army said.
On Thursday, three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike which the army believed was carried out by the Syrian air force. It happened on the first anniversary of Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet over Syria and raised fears of an escalation in the conflict.
Turkey subsequently deployed low-altitude air defense systems with Stinger missiles to the border area, Dogan said.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the air strike with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday. They spoke again late on Saturday about “Syria and efforts to resolve the humanitarian drama in Aleppo”, sources in Erdogan’s office said.
Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main military backer. Turkey backs rebels fighting to oust him.
Ankara and Moscow only restored ties, which had been damaged by November’s jet incident, in August. While they continue to pursue conflicting goals in Syria, Turkey has of late been less openly critical of Assad than in the past.