Bodies of missing soldiers returned to Turkey from Syria
ANKARA - The bodies of two Turkish soldiers who had been missing in Syria for more than a month have been returned to Turkey, local media reported on Tuesday.
Turkey has been fighting the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria since August, but the battle to take town of Al-Bab has proved tough and casualties there are on the rise.
At the end of November, the Turkish army said it had lost contact with two of its soldiers in the region, without elaborating.
The Amaq news agency affiliated with IS claimed at the time that the jihadists had taken the pair hostage in northern Syria.
The bodies of Kivanc Kasikci and Muhammed Duran Kesin were returned to their families after a funeral ceremony in the southeastern city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border, the Dogan news agency reported, without saying when.
A spokesman for a Syrian rebel group called Hamza Brigade, Eyup Ahmet Aga, suggested the troops' bodies had been returned in exchange for the release of IS prisoners.
Six IS captives held by the Hamza Brigade had been delivered to the jihadist group, he told the Haber Turk newspaper.
While Syrian opposition fighters backed by Turkey easily captured Jarabulus, Al-Rai and Dabiq from IS jihadists at the start of the campaign, Al-Bab has proved elusive and has become the main target of Turkey's operation known as Euphrates Shield.
In December, IS released a video purporting to show another pair of Turkish soldiers captured in Syria being burned alive.
Turkey has said it could not confirm the authenticity of the video.