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22 Feb, 2015 08:22

Turkish military conduct ground op in Syria to evacuate soldiers from holy place

A convoy of Turkish tanks entered Syrian territory to evacuate the tomb of the Ottoman Empire’s forefather and a small garrison guarding it. The military operation launched to rescue the holy place was coordinated with the Kurds.

The only casualty was a Turkish soldier. No details of his death have been given as the operation was classified, but there were no reports of engagement with extremist fighters.

The task force of approximately 100 military vehicles, including 39 tanks, crossed the Syrian border to a territory controlled by Kurdish Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters and passed through the city of Kobani, recaptured by the YPG from the Islamic State in January.

READ MORE: Kurds retake Kobani as ISIS admits retreat

Turkish Army launched a military operation to move the tomb of Suleyman Shah in #Syria to a new location near #Turkeypic.twitter.com/wYoLCfC6Kh

— Volkan Emre (@volkemre) February 22, 2015

The convoy headed to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the father of the Ottoman Empire, Osman I. The mausoleum and a small territory of 6.3 hectares around it is situated on the Euphrates River some 35 kilometers from Kobani. According to a treaty signed in 1921, it’s part of Turkish territory permanently guarded by about 40 Turkish soldiers.

Tomb of Suleyman Shah, Syria (Image from globalresearch.ca)

The operation was launched late on Saturday and by 7 am the convoy had successfully completed the evacuation, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reported on Twitter.

The prime minister held a media briefing in the capital, Ankara, reporting that 38 soldiers had been brought back safely to Turkey.

Turkey requested no permission or assistance for the operation, yet once the mission began, the allies of the international anti-Islamic State coalition were informed, said the PM.

READ MORE: 3,000 ISIS infiltrators may enter Turkey, plan to attack diplomatic targets – report

The reaction of Damascus to Turkey’s unannounced ground operation in Syria has been harsh, as the Syrian government said it holds Turkey responsible for “repercussions of this aggression.”

Syrian national TV has accused Ankara of “flagrant aggression," saying the Turkish government had informed the Syrian consulate in Istanbul about the ground operation, but hadn’t waited for Syria's agreement, Reuters reported.

First joint op for #Turkey's military and YPG? TSK Syria airstrikes rumored after Suleyman Shah relief convoy report pic.twitter.com/yuhAmteJGs

— Noah Blaser (@nblaser18) February 21, 2015

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has congratulated both the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the government for the evacuation operation.

“On behalf of myself and the nation, I congratulate our government and armed forces for carrying out this successful operation, which is beyond appreciation,” the Turkish president said in a statement released on Sunday.

“All relics at the Tomb of Süleyman Şah and the Saygı Outpost and our soldiers who were performing their assignments there have been brought to our country safe and sound in the Şah Fırat operation which was carried out during the night,” Erdogan said.

A Turkish soldier sits on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background, as seen from the southeastern town of Suruc close to the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border (Reuters / Umit Bektas)

Usually a convoy going to the tomb with servicemen who rotate periodically is much smaller, but since the area has become a battlefield for Kurdish militia fighting the Islamic State militants, the convoy’s firepower was significantly increased.

READ MORE: US and Turkey agree to train, equip Syrian rebels against ISIS