Monday 20 November 2017

Nato vows to support Turkey against 'terrible acts of terror'

Analyst says success of Kurdish fighters in Syria has forced change in Ankara's policy on Isil

A Syrian man cries as he sits on the rubble of a house after a reported attack by Syrian government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Photo: Getty Images
A Syrian man cries as he sits on the rubble of a house after a reported attack by Syrian government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Photo: Getty Images

Ben Farmer in London

Nato stands in "strong solidarity" with Turkey against "terrible acts of terror", the alliance leader has said at a rare emergency meeting to discuss the country's fight against Isil.

Terrorism poses a threat to the entire alliance, he said, as representatives met to hear about Ankara's dramatic escalation of its military action along its southern border with Syria.

Turkey's decision to join direct strikes on Isil targets after months of reluctance, join with America to carve out a buffer zone inside Syria, and open up air bases to US jets could dramatically change the course of the conflict against Isil militants, commanders believe.

But Ankara has also complicated the US-led fight against Isil by apparently attacking Kurdish militants who until now have been America and Britain's most effective battlefield allies.

An Isil-suicide bombing in Suruc last week left 32 people dead and another attack on Turkish forces killed a soldier.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the outlawed Kurdish separatist party, has taken responsibility for killing three Turkish policemen.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato Secretary General, said: "All allies stand in solidarity with Turkey. We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks.

"We express our condolences to the Turkish government and to the families of the victims in Suruc and other attacks against police and military officers.

"Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of Nato countries and to international stability and prosperity."

Sources said the 45-minute meeting called under the alliance's article 4 had been largely symbolic and Turkey had not asked for direct military help.

Ege Seckin, Turkey analyst at IHS Country Risk, said Ankara had been forced to change its policy against Isil because of the success of Kurdish fighters in recent months.

Kurdish YPG militiamen closely aligned to the PKK had begun to force back Isil fighters and establish their own growing territory in the north of Syria.

The proposed 68-mile-long safe zone will close a main route for foreign fighters heading to join Isil, but it will also stop Kurdish fighters linking up their own corridor of territory along the border inside Syria, he said.

He said: "With the start of coalition air strikes against Iraq and Syria, we saw an expansion of Kurdish areas. Time was running out to halt the spread of a Kurdish area which would have cut off Turkey from its own allies in Syria."

Turkey says the territory will act as a haven for refugees who have fled fighting, but it is also likely to become a base for Turkish-backed Syrian moderate rebels and a staging post for their assault on Aleppo.

Last night Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that it is impossible to continue the Kurdish peace process as he urged politicians' prosecution immunity to be stripped if they have links to "terrorist groups".

"It is not possible for us to continue the peace process with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood," Mr Erdogan said.

The president defended Turkey's conduct, saying it had been "sincere" on the peace process but that it had been "exploited" by the Kurdish side.

"Those who exploit the people and the state's tolerance and patience will receive the answer they deserve as soon as possible. Any step back is out of the question. This is a process and this process will continue with the same determination," Mr Erdogan said.

Reacting to the attacks by Isil and the PKK, Turkey launched air strikes on Isil positions in Syria and Kurdish targets in Iraq.

Bulent Arinc, Turkey's deputy prime minister, also announced plans for a high-level security barrier along its 500-mile border with Syria last week.

Meanwhile, a pipeline carrying natural gas from Iran to Turkey in Turkey's eastern province of Agri was attacked, halting the flow, Taner Yildiz, the Turkish energy minister, and state gas company Botas said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmark of the PKK, which has struck the pipeline before.

"An explosion occurred as a result of sabotage about 15 km inside the Turkish border on the Turkey-Iran gas pipeline," Mr Yildiz said in a statement. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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