Syrian aircraft and airports in Idlib attacked by Turkey.

Turkey shot down two Syrian warplanes over Idlib and bombed a military airport away from its front lines in a major escalation

Turkey shot down two Syrian warplanes over Idlib and bombed a military airport away from its front lines in a major escalation of its military operations after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed last week.

Ankara has stepped up its attacks, including drone strikes against the Syrian army, since Thursday, when 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air attack by Damascus. Turkey has already deployed thousands of soldiers and military vehicles in Idlib, northwest Syria, last month to halt the progress of the Syrian government forces, which led to the displacement of one million people to areas near the southern border of Turkey.

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrians and is determined to prevent any further influx from Syria. It also allowed migrants to enter the European Union across its borders in an apparent attempt to press for EU support in tackling the Syrian crisis.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that during the past four days, Turkish forces destroyed eight helicopters, 103 tanks, 72 howitzer guns, rocket launchers, a drone, and six air defense systems. He described Turkey’s fourth operation as a “spring shield”.

In response, the Syrian army said it had shot down three Turkish drones and warned that it would shoot down any drones or planes that violated Syria’s airspace over the northwest of the country, which has been controlled by its Russian ally for years.

Despite this warning, Turkish warplanes shot down two Syrian warplanes, while Anatolia news agency said that the Turkish army targeted the Syrian military airport of Nairab, west of Aleppo, and removed it from service.

The Turkish-backed opposition leaders also said that Kweres airport in eastern Neirab had been bombed arround midnight. The two airports are located within the territories controlled by the Syrian government, which represents a major expansion of Ankara’s goals.

And this fighting threatens the outbreak of direct clash between Russia and Turkey, which have cooperated for years to contain the fighting, despite the support of each of them a different party in the Syrian war.

Akar said that 2212 members of the Syrian armed forces were “neutralized”, an expression used to refer to those killed, injured or captured. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 74 members of the Syrian government forces and fighters loyal to Damascus had been killed since February 27.

So far, the diplomatic efforts of Ankara and Moscow to defuse the tension have failed to achieve a ceasefire in the Idlib area, the last major bastion of the opposition forces.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşo Ughlu said on Saturday that although progress had been made between the Turkish and Russian delegations, the Idlib issue would be resolved only between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin.

A senior Turkish official and security official said the meeting would be held on Thursday in Moscow. The two officials said the two leaders will discuss steps to be taken in Idlib and they are expected to reach a common understanding.

The latest round of fighting in Idlib led to the displacement of 1 million civilians since December, most of them women and children, towards the Turkish border.

Turkey has said it will allow migrants to enter Europe, removing restrictions on movement since 2016 under an agreement with the European Union.

Witnesses said Greek police fired tear gas to disperse refugees who threw stones at them, trying to force their way across the border from Turkey and thousands of others left after Ankara eased restrictions on them.

Turkey’s borders with Europe were closed to migrants under an agreement between the European Union and Turkey that ended the migrant crisis in 2015-2016 when more than a million people entered Europe on foot.

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