President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey was not seeking to seize any Syrian territory despite intensifying its attacks on Kurdish forces in the war-torn north of the country.
Erdogan’s comments came days after a Turkish airstrike on a Syrian border crossing run by regime forces reportedly killed 17 fighters.
A war monitor said Kurds manning some of the Syrian border crossings and regime forces were killed in the Turkish raids.
The official Syrian news agency said three government soldiers had died.
Turkey said it was responding to a strike on its own positions along the border that killed two soldiers.
The firefight marked one of the biggest escalations since Ankara and Damascus swapped attacks in 2020.
Erdogan appeared to attempt to calm tensions in comments to reporters aboard his flight home from his first wartime visit to Ukraine.
“We have no eyes on Syrian territory because the Syrian people are our brothers,” Erdogan told Turkish media.
“The regime must be aware of this.”
Erdogan’s visit to Ukraine came two weeks after he traveled to Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that also covered Syria.
Putin’s support has been instrumental in helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad survive an 11-year conflict against rebel groups backed in part by Turkey.
Erdogan said he told Putin he wanted to cooperate more closely with Russia in areas of northern Syria where Ankara targets Kurds whom he considers “terrorists”.
“We are in contact with Russia with every step we take in Syria,” Erdogan said.
– Blame Assad? –
The border clash has been accompanied by growing fears that Turkey is preparing to launch its fourth cross-border offensive against Kurdish forces since 2016.
Erdogan accuses Kurdish fighters in Syria – allied with the United States against Islamic State jihadists – as outlaw militants linked to groups waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
He repeated his slogan on Friday that Turkish forces could strike Syrian Kurds “suddenly one night”.
But he also hinted that Turkey might be open to a possible rebuke to Assad after he fiercely opposed his rule.
“There should be no resentment in politics,” Erdogan said.
He pointed out that Turkey had reconciled with its old rivals, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates over the past few years.
“We need to secure further steps with Syria,” he said without fully explaining what that might entail.
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu sparked protests in Ankara-controlled northern parts of Syria last week calling for “reconciliation” between rebel groups he backs and Assad.
He also revealed last year that he held his first brief meeting with a Syrian foreign minister since 2011.
“You should always be at peace,” Erdogan said on Friday. “You should have the opportunity to meet at any time.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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