Saturday 10 December 2016

Turkey denies sending troops into Syria - and says it has no plan to do so

Anita Cortez in Ankara

Published 16/02/2016 | 02:30

Soldiers carry ammunition as Turkish artillery fire from the border near Kilis toward northern Syria, in Kilis. Photo: AP
Soldiers carry ammunition as Turkish artillery fire from the border near Kilis toward northern Syria, in Kilis. Photo: AP

Turkey has no plans to send troops into Syria, the country's defence minister has said, as he denied reports that some Turkish soldiers had already entered Syria at the weekend, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported yesterday.

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Syria's government had said Turkish forces were believed to be among 100 gunmen who entered Syria on Saturday with 12 pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, in an operation to supply insurgents fighting Damascus.

"It is not true ... There is no thought of Turkish soldiers entering Syria," Mr Yilmaz told a Turkish parliamentary commission when asked about the allegation by the Syrian foreign ministry, made in a letter to the UN Security Council.

Turkey's army shelled Kurdish YPG militia targets in northern Syria over the weekend, after the group seized an air base north of Aleppo, further complicating the conflict on Nato-member Turkey's southern border.

Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist organisation and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a 31-year-old insurgency for autonomy in south-east Turkey. Washington, which does not see the YPG as terrorists, backs the group in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in Syria.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, has demanded that the YPG withdraw from areas it has captured from Syrian rebels.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has urged Russia to stop bombing "moderate" rebels in Syria in support of its ally Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, a campaign seen in the West as a major obstacle to efforts to end the war.

Mr Yilmaz also denied reports that Saudi Arabian aircraft had arrived at Turkey's Incirlik air base for the fight against Isil militants, but said a decision had been reached for Saudi to send four F-16 jets.

A Turkish soldier was killed on Sunday evening after Turkey's security forces clashed with a group at the Syrian border that was trying to enter Turkey illegally, the armed forces said. The Turkish military, which regularly detains people crossing back and forth across the Syrian border, said the clash occurred in the Yayladagi area of Hatay province.

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