Middle East

Turkey denies reported 'tomb for Iraq hostages' scheme

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (C) arrives for a meeting in Ankara on August 20, 2014. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

ISTANBUL: The Turkish foreign ministry Thursday angrily denied a newspaper report that Ankara was in talks with Islamist militants to hand over a historic tomb it controls in Syria in exchange for dozens of nationals held hostage in Iraq.

Under a treaty signed in the early 1920s, Turkey controls the Tomb of Suleyman Shah in northern Syria as a sovereign exclave and even has armed forces permanently stationed around the historic monument.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have been holding for more than two months 49 Turks including diplomats, special forces and children kidnapped from the Turkish consulate in Mosul on June 11.

The anti-government Taraf daily reported that ISIS has given Ankara three weeks to relinquish the Tomb of Suleyman Shah in exchange for the hostages.

Ankara has given the offer the green light and already notified the Turkish armed forces to withdraw its troops permanently stationed around the tomb, Taraf claimed.

But the Foreign Ministry released a statement saying such allegations have "no basis" and slammed Taraf for publishing the report.

"One should adhere to journalism and media ethics on such a sensitive issue and refrain from groundless, speculative and irresponsible publications, as well as misguiding the public," it said.

It added: "Efforts are under way to secure the release of the consulate staff as soon as possible," it added.

The Tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Ottoman Empire founder Osman, is located in the province of Aleppo, 25 kilometers from the Turkey-Syria border.

The ISIS - which has occupied large swath of northern Iraq - has in the past threatened to attack the tomb as it tries to gain control of the area.

NATO member Turkey had said it would retaliate if the tomb came under attack.

Taraf said the ISIS initially asked for money and arms but the two sides later agreed on the alleged deal.

Turkey, which backs the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been accused of arming Al-Qaeda-linked groups including the ISIS.

The kidnappings have become a huge embarrassment for Turkey, especially for Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is expected to succeed incoming president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as prime minister.

In order not to endanger the lives of the hostages, Turkey has not joined the international efforts to halt the advance of ISIS and also imposed a media blackout on coverage of the hostage crisis.





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