1 March 2020 Turkey launches Operation Spring Shield against Syrian government forces in Idlib

On 1 March, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar declared that Turkey was launching a full military operation against Syrian government forces in the Idlib province, suddenly escalating the Turkish involvement in the conflict. The announcement of Operation Spring Shield, which was immediately enforced with Turkish raids against Al Assad’s regime targets, came three days after the killing of at least 33 Turkish soldiers in a Syrian government airstrike on Idlib. Assad’s regime, backed by Russian forces, has been pushing to retake the last rebel-controlled region in Syria both with increased air strikes and a ground offensive. The escalation of violence caused the displacement of some 148,000 civilians, bringing the total number of Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes in northwest Syria to nearly one million only in the last three months. Displaced Syrians are increasingly moving towards the Turkish border, adding another layer of tension to EU-Turkey relations as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced the opening of the border with Greece. Both the EU and the UN immediately reacted to the rising tensions. HR/VP Josep Borrell condemned the renewed fighting and scheduled an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council to discuss the situation in Syria. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres, together with representatives of UN agencies such as OCHA, UNICEF and UNHCR, called for the end of what he defined as a “man-made humanitarian nightmare”. Russia and Turkey are supposed to hold talks either on 5 or 6 March to discuss the unfolding Idlib crisis.