ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — 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 continued over a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive near the Turkish border.
State-run Syrian media said troops shot down a Turkish drone, keeping up a clash in the skies over the northwestern province that has gone on for days and signaled a new stage in the 9-year-old war.
The Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Twitter that the Turkish military downed an L-39 warplane belonging to Syrian government forces. The Syrian military said Turkish forces targeted a warplane with a missile as it was carrying out operations against “terrorist groups” in the rebel-held Idlib region, causing it to crash northwest of the town of Maaret al-Numan. The fate of the crew was not clear.
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.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip 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 increasingly 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 a 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. Turkey responded with drone attacks and shelling that killed more than 90 Syrian troops and allied gunmen. The Turkish air force on Sunday 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, triggering a rush on the land and sea frontiers with Greece. It is Ankara’s latest bid to pressure the European Union to help handle the fallout from the disastrous Syrian war. Turkey, which hosts over 3.5 million Syrian refugees of that war, was an early supporter of the rebels who sought to topple Assad after an uprising against his rule erupted in March 2011.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who arrived in Ankara on Tuesday, expressed solidarity with Turkey.
“We support Turkey’s efforts to re-establish a cease-fire agreed in 2018 and to protect those civilians fleeing the (Syrian) regime’s monstrous assault,” he said during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Aji reported from Damascus, Syria.
This article was written by SUZAN FRASER and ALBERT AJI from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.