Turkey shot down a Syrian fighter jet in Syria’s Idlib province Tuesday, marking the third such incident in as many days, as steady clashes between the two national armies appeared to signal a new stage in the nine-year old war.
The Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Twitter that the Turkish military downed a L-39 warplane belonging to Syrian government forces. Syrian state-run television reported that Turkish forces targeted a warplane as it was carrying out operations against “terrorist groups” in the opposition-held Idlib region. It was not immediately clear what happened to the plane’s crew.
Turkey has sent thousands of troops into Idlib to support the opposition fighters holed up there, but hasn’t been able to roll back the government’s advance.
Erdogan has said he hopes to broker a cease-fire in Syria later this week when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
But the Russian-backed offensive into the country’s last rebel-held area has led to more and more frequent clashes between the Syrian and Turkish armies that have killed dozens on both sides. It has also threatened a collapse in Turkish cooperation with Moscow, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A Turkish soldier was killed and another wounded Monday night, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said, raising to 55 the number of Turkish losses this month in clashes with Russian-backed Syrian forces. The death toll includes 33 Turkish soldiers killed Thursday in a single airstrike.
The government’s offensive has also sparked one of the Syrian war’s worst humanitarian crises.
Almost one million Syrian civilians have fled north toward the sealed Turkish border, overwhelming camps already crowded above capacity.
Tensions in Idlib rose following the Syrian strike that killed the 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. Turkey responded with drone attacks and shelling that killed more than 90 Syrian troops and allied gunmen. The Turkish air force also shot down two Syrian warplanes after Syria’s air defenses shot down one of its drones. The Syrian pilots ejected safely.
Outraged by the assault against its forces in Syria, Turkey has opened its western borders for thousands of migrants and refugees wanting to cross into Europe. It is Ankara’s latest bid to pressure the European Union to help handle the fallout from the disastrous Syrian war.
Thousands of migrants have since tried to cross into Greece by land and sea. Greek authorities have made clear their side of the border is shut and have turned to arresting dozens of those who managed to find a way through the frontier.