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Turkey launches 'fresh' military operation in Idlib as tensions mount

dw.com logo dw.com 3/1/2020 dw.com

Syria has closed its airspace in Idlib province as intensive violence escalates in the area. The move comes as Turkey continued a military operation targeting Russian-backed regime forces.

a truck driving down a dirt road in front of a building: Provided by Deutsche Welle © AFP/H. Kadour Provided by Deutsche Welle

Turkey said Sunday it has "successfully" continued its military operation against the Syrian regime in northwest Syria. The announcement comes as the Russian-backed Syrian military closed its airspace in flashpoint areas, as tensions rise with neighboring Turkey, which supports rebels groups in the region.

"We don't have the desire or intention to clash with Russia," Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Sunday, marking the first time Ankara has confirmed a full and continuing operation.

Violence between the two sides erupted days earlier when Syrian airstrikes killed 34 Turkish soldiers in the province of Idlib. Turkey retaliated with deadly airstrikes targeting regime forces.

What is going on in Idlib?

Idlib province is the last rebel stronghold in Syria. Rebels are supported by Turkey while Syrian President Bashar Assad's government is supported by Russia.

"Our intention is to stop the regime's massacres, and prevent... migration," Akar said.

"We expect Russia to stop the regime's attacks and to use their influence to ensure the regime withdraws to the borders of the Sochi agreement."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish drone strikes killed 26 Syrian soldiers in northwest Syria on Saturday.

Read more: Idlib: 'I'd rather suffer bombs than Assad'

Warnings over airspace

The Syrian military threatened to target any aircraft spotted in closed airspace in the country's northwest. "Any aircraft violating our airspace will be treated as hostile that must be shot down," a Syrian military source said to state news agency SANA on Sunday.

"Forces of the Turkish regime continue to implement hostile acts against our armed forces operating in the province of Idlib and its surroundings," the source said.

An aircraft was 'downed' — but by whom?

Syrian state media denied a report by Turkey's state-owned Anadolu Agency that said its plane was shot down by a Turkish drone on Sunday morning. The Syrian army said it had downed a Turkish drone over the town of Saraqeb.

Read more: What you need to know about the escalation in Syria's Idlib

Tensions between Ankara and Moscow remain high after Turkey called an emergency NATO meeting earlier this week, following Syrian airstrikes.

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ed/stb (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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