Turkey wants Syria ground operation with allies
February 16 2016 10:48 PM
Turkish tanks stationed at a Turkish army position near the Oncupinar crossing gate close to the town of Kilis, south central Turkey, fire towards the Syria border, yesterday. Turkey is in favour of a ground operation into neighbouring Syria only with its allies.


Turkey called yesterday for a ground operation with its international allies to end the war in Syria, as a UN envoy held talks in Damascus aimed at salvaging an increasingly beleaguered ceasefire plan.
Tensions escalated over Russia’s air war in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Ankara branding the bombing “barbaric” and EU President Donald Tusk saying it “leaves little hope” of a solution.
Turkey sees the ouster of Assad as essential to ending a five-year conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, and is highly critical of Iran and Russia over their support for the Damascus regime.
“We want a ground operation with our international allies,” a senior Turkish official told reporters in Istanbul, adding such an operation would require the involvement of the US and Gulf states.
“There is not going to be a unilateral military operation from Turkey to Syria,” the official emphasised, but added: “Without a ground operation it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria.”
Analysts fear that any ground incursion by Turkey and its Nato allies could lead to a dangerous confrontation with Russia.
Saudi Arabia, another fierce critic of Assad, has said it is ready to send special forces to Syria to take part in ground operations against the Islamic State (IS) group.
Turkey and Syria analyst Aaron Stein said the declarations did not mark a new strategy for Ankara, adding that Turkey would be hard pressed to commit ground troops.
“This latest talk about a Turkish ground operation is a reiteration of long-standing Turkish policy,” said Stein, non-resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
“It is unlikely that Turkey will put ground troops in Syria,” he said, noting that Turkey would want both UN Security Council approval and US support.
The UN said on Monday that nearly 50 civilians, including children, had died in the bombings of at least five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria.
The region around Syria’s second city of Aleppo has been the target of a major anti-rebel offensive by Syrian government troops, backed by Russian warplanes, which has sent tens of thousands fleeing to the Turkish border.
Russia denied it had bombed any hospital, calling such reports “unsubstantiated accusations”.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus yesterday to try to keep alive the proposal announced in Munich on Friday for a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria within a week.
“We have been particularly talking about the issue of humanitarian unhindered access to all besieged areas not only by the government but also by (the) opposition” and IS, De Mistura told reporters afterwards.
Assad on Monday said it would be “difficult” to implement a truce by Friday.
“Who is capable of gathering all the conditions and requirements in a week? No one.”
Turkey shelled Kurdish positions in northern Syria for a fourth straight day yesterday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It said the shells had struck the town of Tal Rifaat which was captured on Monday from mostly Islamist rebels by a Kurdish-Arab coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Turkish media also reported shelling on Kurdish positions around the rebel stronghold of Azaz.
Kurdish forces were negotiating with rebels to enter the virtually encircled town of Marea, one of the last remaining opposition bastions in Aleppo province, the Observatory said.
Stein said that already “the events on the ground are moving too fast” for Turkey to be moving ground troops into Syria.
Ankara accuses the Kurdish forces of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey.
Turkey fears the Kurds will be able to create a contiguous Kurdish territory just across the border in northern Syria.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday accused Kurdish fighters in Syria of being “Russia’s legion working as mercenaries”, with a priority aim of harming Turkey’s interests.
Russia’s air strikes have allowed government forces to press a major operation that has virtually encircled rebels in eastern Aleppo city, as well as pushing them from much of the region to the north.
“Those vile, cruel and barbaric planes have made close to 8,000 sorties since September 30 without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly,” Davutoglu told his ruling party.
The Turkish official meanwhile warned that the Munich cessation of hostilities agreement would be doomed if Russia’s continued its air campaign.
“The Munich agreement may not be the best agreement but it should be supported,” said the official. “But if the Russian bombardment continues like this the Munich agreement will not work.”

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