Turkey opens borders as violence with Syria escalates in Idlib

Fighting in the north-western city of Idlib has intensified after Syrian government forces killed 36 Turkish soldiers in an attack that saw a major escalation of the Syrian conflict. In response, Turkey has hit 200 government targets, killing 309 soldiers, and has opened its borders, allowing thousands of migrants to enter Greece. 

Russia has stated that the Turkish troops were kills by Syrian forces while operating alongside jihadist fighters. Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, spoke by phone and both expressed concern and the need for, “additional measures” to calm the situation, leaving the possibility of a summit in the near future, says the Kremlin. The two countries are on rival sides of Syria’s civil war, with Russia backing Syria’s government, and Turkey backing the Syrian rebels that the former have labelled ‘terrorists’. The two nations have since agreed a ceasefire, after Putin and Erdogan spoke for six hours in the Russian capital in an attempt to avoid major escalation. 

Russian-backed, Syrian government forces have been attempting to regain control of the city of Idlib from Turkish-backed rebel factions, and jihadist groups. Speaking on the situation, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted, “there is a risk of sliding into a major open international military confrontation. It is also causing unbearable humanitarian suffering and putting civilians in danger”. 

Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has pledged to recapture, “every inch” of Syrian territory, and the major highways of Idlib are a necessary benefit to Syria’s economy, which is crippled by sanctions. However, to do so Assad requires heavily on the support from Russia and Iran-backed militias. Assad, speaking on Russian news outlet Russia 24, has said that he looks to normalise relations with Turkey again in the long run, despite the growing conflict. Thousands of troops had been sent to Syria by Turkey, in an attempt to halt the Syrian offensive on Idlib. This has led to direct fighting between the two countries, with an estimated 58 Turkish troops killed in the fighting.

In opening its borders to Europe, Turkey has caused a huge movement of people subsequently entering Greece, leading to tension on islands such as Lesbos between locals and migrants. Speaking on the issue, Erdogan has warned Europe to expect “millions” of migrants, as Ankara claims it is struggling to handle the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. The EU has responded by praising Athens for its work as a “shield” to deter a further influx of migrants into the European Union. Turkey has claimed that Greek forces killed three migrants attempting to enter their country, an accusation that Athens strongly rejects. 

The ceasefire between Russia and Turkey marks an attempt from the two nations to halt the escalating violence in the region. However, whether or not this ceasefire leads to further movement in peace negotiations is yet to be seen. Despite this, as the violence grows in a conflict that began in 2011, and the fighting spreads to direct contact between major nations, there appears to be no end in sight to a war that is ravaging a once-peaceful nation. 

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William Warnes

Global Editor - 2019/20

Co-Deputy Editor - 2020/21

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September 2021
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