Tuesday 11 December 2018

'Terrorist' Assad can't be part of Syria's future: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Getty Images

Dean Gray

Syria's peace efforts cannot include President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey's leader said yesterday, calling him a "terrorist".

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke during a visit to Tunisia at the end of a four-day Africa trip focusing on economic issues.

At a joint news conference with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, Mr Erdogan called Mr Assad a "terrorist who engaged in state terrorism" and should not be part of Syria's post-conflict future.

"How can we embrace a future with a Syrian leader who has killed close to a million of his citizens?" said the Turkish leader, whose country has seen a flood of refugees from neighbouring Syria during the fighting.

Turning to another highly sensitive Middle East issue, Mr Erdogan and Mr Essebsi said their nations would never accept changes to Jerusalem's historic status after US President Donald Trump's recognition of the city as Israel's capital.

"Jerusalem is our red line. Any steps against Jerusalem's historic status and holiness are unacceptable," Mr Erdogan said, adding that his country will work toward international recognition of the Palestinian state and seek the support of the European Union.

The Turkish leader also vowed to help support Tunisia overcome economic hardships and combat extremism.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was paying a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met King Salman yesterday. The two countries recently have been at odds over regional issues. Following his accession to power in 2015, King Salman sought to improve relations with Turkey to form a so-called Sunni axis against rival Shi'ite-led Iran.

However, the kingdom's move in June to lead a four- nation boycott of Qatar and cut off ties with the Gulf state led to new tensions with Turkey, which has sided with Qatar.

The Turkish prime minister's office said Mr Yildirim and King Salman exchanged views on "regional challenges and problems". They also emphasised the importance of Jerusalem's status and the need for the Islamic world to act in unity to protect the rights of Palestinian "brothers".

It also emerged yesterday fewer than 1,000 Isil fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, the US-led coalition fighting the hardline Sunni militant group said, a third of the estimated figure three weeks ago.

Iraq and Syria have both declared victory over Isil in recent weeks, after a year that saw the two countries' armies, a range of foreign allies and various local forces drive the fighters out of all the towns and villages that once made up their self-proclaimed caliphate.

The United States has led an international coalition conducting air strikes against Isil since 2014 when the group swept across a third of Iraq. US troops have served as advisers on the ground with Iraqi government forces and with Kurdish and Arab groups in Syria.

"Due to the commitment of the coalition and the demonstrated competence of our partners in Iraq and Syria, there are estimated to be less than 1,000 Isil terrorists in our combined joint area of operations, most of whom are being hunted down in the desert regions in eastern Syria and western Iraq," the US-led coalition said in an emailed statement.

The figure excludes areas in western Syria under the control of President Assad's government and his allies. Mr Assad's main ally Russia also said yesterday the main battle with Isil in Syria was over.

Irish Independent

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