Turkey Shoots Down Third Plane As Syrian Forces Retake Town

On the 2 March 2020, Turkish forces shot down a fighter jet flown by Syrian government forces, over southern Idlib. Meanwhile, Syrian forces have retaken the strategic town of Saraqeb in Northwest Syria, combing through neighbourhoods and further endangering the lives of civilians.

Both Syrian media and the Turkish defense ministry have confirmed the news. Rashwan Abu Hamza, who serves as a field commander in Saraqeb working with the rebel groups and Turkey, discussed the battle with Al Jazeera. He said that, “Regime forces began to advance into the city at 2:00 A.M. and an hour later entered the neighbourhoods and began combing them. The shelling from Russian warplanes escalated and forced us to withdraw west of the city.” Devlet Bahceli, the head of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party, said that, “Turkey is not joking… Russia and Syria should not try Turkey’s patience any more.”

This crisis is a great tragedy. Both sides have experienced heavy losses, just in the short period preceding these events: Turkey hit two other Syrian aircraft on Sunday, and Saraqeb has changed hands twice in the past month. More than 2,500 Syrian soldiers have been neutralized, almost one million Syrian civilians have fled toward the Turkish border, and Turkey has lost 54 soldiers in February alone, 34 in a single airstrike.

These losses are far greater than numbers, however. A young mother, named Umm Asad, has been separated from her family for a year, initially in search for medical help for her six-year-old son. Now her son is permanently comatose, and her one-year-old daughter has never met her father or her two other siblings, as the two are unable to return home to Binnish, six kilometers outside of Saraqeb. Similarly, a young man, Ahmad Abeed, has worked in a hazelnut factory in Turkey for five years, but longs to return to Syria, where his family has been displaced to Sarmada. Abeed told Al Jazeera that “When I first came to Turkey… I didn’t support any side. But now the enemy is clear. I can’t leave my younger sisters inside to die, so that’s why I want to pick up arms.” Innocent civilians are being separated from their families for years at a time, and are forced to bear arms, in the hope of being able to see their families again. Meanwhile, agreements like the 2018 Sochi agreement with Russia serve only to further endanger military troops. Government heads remain stubborn on minor issues, refusing to take meaningful diplomatic action, and instead put individuals’ lives in further danger.

Turkey has been involved in the Syrian Civil War since the December of 2011. They have implemented a number of operations within Syria, the most recent being Operation Spring Shield, which has been the largest intervention in the Civil War, and served as a response to the aforementioned deaths of 34 Turkish soldiers. Turkey has closed its borders to Syria despite its displacement of nearly a million civilians, and the operation has killed hundreds more.

It is possible that the conflict will continue as it has. Civilians within Syria will continue to be displaced and endangered, and Syrians in Turkey will be separated from their families. Turkey’s president has stated since, that he hopes to broker a cease-fire in Syria during a meeting in Moscow; however, the extent to which he is willing to negotiate is still questionable. It is also saddening that the Syrian president does not seem to be involved in said negotiation, as it seems to be primarily between Russia, who joined the conflict on the side of Syria in September of 2015, and Turkey, who backs the Syrian opposition. This does bode well for the future of peace in the area as these negotiations seem to be serious; they were instigated by the sudden worsening of fighting between Syrian and Turkish troops. Direct conflict between the two forces has been rare. However, until these negotiations actually occur, it is impossible to confidently determine exactly how this conflict will turn out.