Turkey downs Assad regime's warplane in Syria
In this file photo taken on Feb.19, 2020, a Czech-made Aero L-39 Albatros Syrian military aircraft flies by after accompanying the airplane which took the first flight from the capital Damascus to Aleppo's airport since the war forced its closure in 2012. (AFP File Photo)
Turkey's Defense Ministry said on March 2 that a warplane of the Syrian regime's forces had been shot down in the course of a Turkish-led military offensive launched in northwest Syria to push back the forces of Bashar al-Assad.
The downed jet was described as an L-39 warplane in the ministry's statement.
The Syrian state news agency SANA separately reported that a Syrian warplane had been targeted by Turkish forces.
It was the third Syrian warplane Turkey has shot down since March 1 in an escalating campaign against Assad's forces.
The ministry's statement also said that the operation "continued successfully through the night."
Within the last 24 hours, Turkish forces have destroyed one aircraft, one drones, six tanks, two air defense systems, five howitzers and multiple rocket launchers, three armored combat vehicles, six military vehicles, and one ammunition depot, the statement said.
Some 327 soldiers of the Syrian regime have been "neutralized," according to the statement.
Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralized" to imply the people in question surrendered or were killed or captured.
With more than a million refugees amassing since December on the Turkish border, the battle for Idlib has brought what the United Nations fears might be the worst humanitarian crisis of the nine-year-old Syrian civil war.
Turkish-backed opposition has fought back and forth in recent weeks against regime's forces backed by Russia and Iran for control of the strategic crossroads town of Saraqeb. The town controls access both to Syria's biggest city Aleppo, held by the regime, and to Idlib, the last major rebel-held city.
Last week, a Syrian air strike killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers in the deadliest attack on the Turkish army in decades.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia's Vladimir Putin are due to meet on March 5 to try to find ways to avert conflict.
Turkey, already home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot take any more. It wants to push Assad's forces back to lines agreed in a 2017 deal brokered with Russia and Iran, which left a buffer zone in northern Syria near its border.
Since last week, Turkey has thrown open its frontiers with Greece and Bulgaria to allow migrants to enter the EU, a move apparently aimed at putting pressure on European countries to back it in Syria.
Some 10,000 migrants have tried to cross into Greece by land in recent days and more than 1,000 have arrived by sea at Greek islands, creating fears of a repeat of the 2015-2016 migration crisis, when more than 1 million people crossed into Greece and 4,000 drowned in the Aegean.