[The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Aerial War Between Syria and Turkey
01 March 2020
Turkish forces downed two Syrian military jets in northwest Syria, according to Damascus, while Turkey said its offensive against Syrian forces in Idlib governorate will continue.
On the other hand, the Syrian official media said that the Syrian army downed three Turkish drones after Damascus closed off its airspace in northwest of the country and threatened to engage any plane that violates the airspace over Idlib governorate.
The Syrian army’s announcement of closing the airspace came after twenty-six of its soldiers were killed in a Turkish drone attack that targeted several military positions in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
The death toll of Syrian government forces as a result of the Turkish drone attacks and artillery bombardment has reached seventy-four deaths since Friday said the SOHR, adding that ten members of the Lebanese Hizballah were also killed. Syria has not officially commented on this toll.
Refugees Once Again
29 February 2020
Some people are trying to cross the barbed wire fence while others are looking for wood and rocks to throw at the police. The final goal for thousands of refugees in Kastanies town, on the border between Turkey and Greece, is to reach Europe.
The five hundred police force have no other means to stop them. They fire tear gas every now and then to prevent what they fear could turn into a human flood trying to cross into Europe.
This all started after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to allow refugees to go from Turkey to Europe. He said that his country cannot handle new waves of refugees from Syria as it already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
A few hundred kilometers away from the tense situation in Kastanies, hundreds of refugees succeeded in entering northern Greece through the Evros river, which runs for two hundred kilometers along the border.
After Erdogan’s statement, which was met by criticism in Greece, armed forces were fanning out the Evros river–turned into a popular crossing point–and using loudspeakers to caution people from entering Greek territory. Greece has also used drones to monitor the movement of migrants. However, the border area is vast, and it would be difficult for observation teams to cover it all.
The chief of the border patrol union Panagiotios Harilas showed reporters a number of tear gas canisters used by Turkish forces which he said were thrown at Greek forces by the migrants.
Erdogan Calls on Putin to “Step Down”
29 February 2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Saturday to allow thousands of refugees to head toward Europe, saying that Damascus will “pay the price” for an attack that killed more than thirty Turkish soldiers in Syria.
Turkey said it destroyed “a chemical weapons facility, thirteen kilometers south of Aleppo, in addition to a number of targets for the Syrian government,” within the context of its response to the killing of its soldiers in Idlib.
“We did not want things to reach this point, but they forced us to do this. They will pay the price,” Erdogan said.
Syrian television denied such a facility existed.
Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian forces on Sunday, the biggest military loss for the Turkish army in years. Another Turkish soldier was later killed raising the toll to thirty-four.
Erdogan made a phone call to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday in an attempt to defuse the escalation. The Kremlin said that the two parties expressed “deep concern” over the situation.
Erdogan might head to Moscow next week to hold talks, the Kremlin said. The Turkish president, however, continued his criticism of Russia on Saturday.
Postponing the Arab Summit
29 February 2020
The restoration of Syria’s membership in the Arab League is a decision that should be made by all member states, Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheil said on Saturday, adding that there are no official or written initiatives in this regard.
In a joint press conference with the Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, Gheit said that the Arab summit could be held before the end of June, adding that it would be up to Algeria considering that it is the host country for the thirty-second edition of the summit.
“Current global conditions, especially from a health perspective, raise concern over meetings and gatherings,” said Gheit. “Therefore, we will discuss the matter with the Algerian President Abdul Majeed Taboun in my meeting with him and the decision will be made in coordination with Algeria given that it is the host country,” he added.
A Four-way Summit
25 February 2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that there has been not “total agreement” in regard to a summit on Syria that would join the leaders of Turkey, Russia, France, and Germany, raising doubts about the anticipated meeting next week.
In a press conference in Ankara, the Turkish president said that there has been no “total agreement” between the French President Emanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the one hand and the Russian President Vladimir Putin on the other hand.
Erdogan had announced on Saturday that a four-way summit on Syria would be held on 5 March, in an initiative to find a solution to the crisis in Idlib, northwest of Syria, where the offensive by the Syrian government has triggered a humanitarian crisis.
“In a worst-case scenario,” a bilateral summit with the Russian president could be held on the same date, Erdogan said on Tuesday.