Turkey on Sunday shot down two Syrian warplanes and targeted military airports in northwestern Syria, as tensions between Ankara and Damascus continue to escalate. The pilots of the two planes were ejected and are now safe, the Syrian government said.

On Thursday, 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria's Idlib province after air strikes by Russian-backed Syrian forces, the largest death toll suffered by the Turkish military in decades. Damascus is currently trying to take back the rebel-held Idlib province, which represents the last stronghold for the opposition.

Idlib lies near the Turkish border, with the Turkish government wanting to push back Syrian government forces, deploying ground troops and military vehicles in the region. Turkey has long opposed the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad and has supported rebel groups in the country’s ongoing civil war.

Turkey, Russia and Iran signed an accord in September 2018 that would create a de-escalation zone in Idlib. Under the agreement, mainstream rebel groups could stay in Idlib, but jihadist groups would be forced to vacate the area. In December, the Syrian government announced it would take back Idlib, claiming that the jihadist groups did not leave the province.

The ongoing escalation between Syria and Turkey is proving to be a quagmire for Russia. Moscow has long backed the Assad government in fighting the rebels but has cooperated with Ankara on security issues.

"We expect Russia to stop the regime's attacks," Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Sunday in a televised statement. "We don't have the desire or intention to clash with Russia."

The Syrian government’s push to take back Idlib has created a humanitarian crisis, with civilians fleeing the violence. Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan announced Saturday that he was opening Turkey’s borders, due to the impact of the refugee population on Turkey. In response, thousands of migrants moved towards Greece, prompting a strong response from the right-wing Greek government.

The Syrian conflict began in March 2011, after mass protests in the southern city of Daraa called for the removal of the Assad government, leading to a military response from Damascus. In January, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the war has left over 380,000 people dead.