Turkey destroys scores of Syrian army targets: defense minister
Migrants head to Greece as Turkey opens floodgates
ISTANBUL/BEIRUT: Turkey said on Sunday it had destroyed air defense systems, more than 100 tanks and downed two planes belonging to the Syrian army as part of an operation it launched after an air strike killed dozens of its soldiers last week.
Tensions in northwest Syria have escalated sharply as fighting between Turkey-backed rebels and Russian-backed Syrian government forces risks bringing the two regional powers into direct confrontation.
Diplomatic efforts by Ankara and Moscow to defuse tensions have so far fallen short of achieving a ceasefire in the Idlib region of northwest Syria, the country’s last major rebel stronghold after nine years of civil war.
Ankara has ramped up its attacks, including drone strikes, against the Syrian army since Thursday, when 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Damascus. Another soldier was killed on Friday, bringing February’s death toll to 55.
Syria’s army warned on Sunday it would take down any planes or drones breaching the air space over the northwest, which has been controlled for years by its ally Moscow.
“We have neither the intention nor the notion to face Russia. Our only intention there is for the (Syrian) regime to end the massacre and thereby prevent, stop radicalization and migration,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Greece placed its borders on maximum security footing on Sunday after hundreds of migrants used porous crossing points to enter the country from Turkey, with thousands behind them seeking entry after Ankara relaxed curbs on their movement.
At least 500 people had arrived by sea on three Greek islands close to the Turkish coast within a few hours on Sunday morning, police said.
On the mainland further north, migrants waded across a river to the Greek side at Kastanies. Reuters reporters saw groups of up to 30, including an Afghan mother with a five-day old infant, on the side of a road.
Turkey said on Thursday it would no longer restrain hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory from reaching Europe despite a deal to do so reached with the EU in 2016. – Reuters