Turkey on Tuesday shot down a Syrian fighter jet in Idlib Province, 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 nine-year-old war.
Ahead of a much-anticipated summit today between the presidents of Turkey and Russia, the two main power brokers in Syria, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov again laid the blame for the escalation squarely on Ankara.
Russian officials have said they hold Turkey responsible for the collapse of a ceasefire agreement reached in Sochi, Russia, in 2018, saying Ankara had not held up its end to rein in militants who continued attacking Syrian and Russian targets.
“The solution to the problem lies in implementing the [Sochi] agreements. They are not being implemented,” Lavrov said after meeting with Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto in Helsinki on Tuesday.
He expressed hope that today’s scheduled meeting between the Russian and Turkish presidents in Moscow would change the situation.
Keeping up the pressure on the battlefield, the Turkish military downed a plane belonging to Syrian government forces — for the third time since Sunday.
The Syrian military said Turkish forces targeted a plane with a missile as it was carrying out operations against “terrorist groups” in Idlib Province, 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 has not been able to roll back the government’s advance.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes to broker a ceasefire in Syria today when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, but the Russian-backed offensive into the nation’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 al-Assad.
The Turkish Ministry of National Defense said that one Turkish soldier was killed and nine others were wounded in an attack on Tuesday, prompting the Turkish military to strike at 82 Syrian government targets in retaliation.
Another soldier was killed on Monday, the ministry said.
That raised to 56 the Turkish losses this month in clashes with Russian-backed Syrian forces. The death toll includes 33 Turkish soldiers killed on Thursday last week in a single airstrike.
The government’s offensive has also sparked one of the Syrian war’s worst humanitarian crises. Almost 1 million Syrian civilians have fled north toward the sealed Turkish border, overwhelming camps already crowded above capacity.
Tensions in Idlib Province 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.
Outraged by the assault against its forces in Syria, Turkey has opened its western borders for thousands of 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 EU to help handle the fallout from the disastrous Syrian war.
Turkey, which hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian war refugees, was an early supporter of the rebels who sought to topple al-Assad after an uprising against his rule erupted in March 2011.
Lavrov said Moscow fully understands the severity of the refugee issue and what it means for the EU.
“We’re engaged in a dialogue with the EU on this issue, but we cannot stop fighting terrorism to solve the refugee problem, even though we are constantly being called upon to do so,” he said.
Meanwhile, US Representative to the UN Kelly Craft announced that the US would provide an additional US$108 million in humanitarian assistance for Syrians in response to the crisis.
Craft, who traveled to Turkey’s border with Syria, said the funds would provide food, shelter, clothing and other materials.
“While money will help address urgent needs, it’s not the answer,” Craft said.
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