Middle East

Turkey seeks to calm speculation over Syria invasion

In this Monday, June 15, 2015 file photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey, Kurdish fighters with the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, wave their yellow triangular flag in the outskirts of Tal Abyad, Syria. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, file)

ANKARA: Turkey sought to calm speculation Tuesday it was planning to invade Syria, saying it would not act unilaterally but has a right to protect its borders.

"To interpret our border security measures as 'Turkey is going to war'... is not very rational," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told a press conference in Ankara.

"A country has a natural right to protect its borders," he said.

Kalin added that Turkey would not take any "unilateral steps" and would continue to act in line with the international community in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Pro-government media outlets had claimed that the government was planning a cross-border operation in Syria, which would involve 18,000 ground troops and include the creation of a 110-kilometer (68-mile) long buffer zone within Syria.

Turkey's top security body, chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held a meeting Monday and released a statement that voiced concerns over recent developments in Syria.

However, it made no mention of immediate military action.

On Saturday, two days after an attack by ISIS that left more than 200 civilians dead in the Syrian city of Kobani, Kurdish forces drove the militants out of the highly symbolic border town which Kurds had wrested from ISIS in January.

The ISIS attack was widely seen as vengeance for a series of defeats at the hands of Kurdish militias, particularly the jihadis' loss of Tal Abyad, another Syrian border town further east, on June 16.

The Kurds' advance has alarmed Turkish officials, who accuse the Kurdish militiamen of seeking to unite the Kurdish-majority areas of Syria.

Authorities fear the growing power of Kurdish forces will embolden Turkey's 15-million strong Kurdish minority.

Kalin again denied persistent claims by Kurds of Turkish collusion with the jihadis, saying that Turkey "has never had and will never have any relations" with the jihadis.

Turkey is one of the fiercest opponents of Bashar Assad's regime in Damascus and has taken in more than 1.8 million refugees since the war in Syria began.

Turkey has repeatedly called for the creation of a security zone inside Syria to protect its borders. But the idea has received lukewarm support from its Western allies.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu warned the government not to "drag Turkey into trouble" by taking military action in Syria, saying it would have a "high cost."

But Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Tuesday responded to Kilicdaroglu by saying: "If some people attempt to change the map (our borders), we will react."

"We won't let Turkey be exposed to a fait accompli, or be dragged into trouble," Davutoglu said Tuesday.

 

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