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28 Feb, 2016 21:01

Turkey to keep supporting armed groups fighting Assad regime in Syria – PM Davutoglu

Turkey to keep supporting armed groups fighting Assad regime in Syria – PM Davutoglu

Some unexpected statements emerged in Al-Jazeera’s interview with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who acknowledged that Ankara was supporting armed groups in Syria, while ruling out a Turkish invasion and accusing Russia of ethnic cleansing.

Davutoglu praised the militants currently in control of the strategic city of Aleppo, who are engaged in a war against Damascus, for repelling attacks from various forces.

“How would they be able to defend themselves if there was no Turkish support of the Syrian people? ... If there’s today a real moderate Syrian opposition, it’s because of the Turkish support. If today the [Assad] regime isn’t able to control all the territories [it’s] because of Turkish and some other countries’ support,” he told Al-Jazeera earlier this week.

Speaking in English, the Prime Minister promised that Ankara “will be doing everything for Syrian brothers and sisters – without asking any assistance from anywhere – for refugees as well as for the heroic people in Syria… all Syrians, those, who are raising their voice against this aggression by the regime, by terrorists like YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units), Daesh (Islamic State, IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and foreign forces, who are invading Syria today, like Russia and Iran.”

Russian ‘ethic cleansings’ in Syria aimed at creating refugee crisis in Turkey, EU

Davutoglu declared that the aim of the Russian air operation in Syria is “ethnic cleansing in and around Aleppo.”

However, at the same time, he blamed Moscow for targeting “all anti-regime forces, all groups – all Sunnis, Kurds, Turkoman, Arab, not important for them, and all those, who are against the regime.”

“They continue to push this people to Turkey. And international community is silent and surely don’t want to help them,” he remarked, adding that Russia’s ultimate aim is “to create a refugee crisis in Turkey and the EU.”

No Turkish intervention in Syria due to lack of Arab support

During his interview, the head of the Turkish government was also asked about the possibility of his country launching a ground invasion into Syria, hinted at earlier by the country’s top officials.

“I told this to one important Arab statesman, when he asked the same question… ‘Why do not intervene in Syria?’ We sent troops in order to liberate Mosul [in Iraq]… and Arab League has condemned Turkey. Now, those who ask us questions should look at themselves – I’m not criticizing our Arab friends – which Arab country did more than Turkey?” he wondered.

“Who will guarantee us that if we militarily intervene that the Arab countries will be defending and supporting this?” Davutoglu added.

Ankara deployed 150 soldiers backed by artillery and around 25 tanks to northern Iraq in December. The move brought harsh criticism, as it was carried out without the consent of the government in Baghdad.

Turkish forces have also been shelling the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terrorist organization, as well as Syrian government troops, since mid-February.

The journalist interviewing the PM suggested that Ankara’s options in Syria were limited, as Russia controls the skies there.

READ MORE: Still BFF? Turkey’s Erdogan attacks US over support of Kurds, blames it for Syrian ‘sea of blood’

“You say that Russia controls the sky, but Turkey controls… Turkey has the hearts of Syrian people. The Syrian people are with us. And nobody can defeat a people,” he replied.

No regrets

Davutoglu said that Turkey “never regret” the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber in November of 2015, as the country was simply defending its airspace.

“Of course, we didn’t know when Russian plane was hit [that] it was a Russian plane. It could have been a Syrian regime [plane]. But we’re a democratic country and there’s a procedure to defend our borders and our airspace,” he said.

According to the Prime Minister, the Su-24 violated Turkey’s airspace and was brought down under rules of engagement that were “first declared in 2011 when the Syrian regime attacked a Turkish plane and Turkish plane crashed.”

“If this plane attacked a Turkish city? We don’t know. Nobody could know it,” he said, adding that Russia “is killing people in Syria, but they can’t use our airspace to kill more Syrian brothers and sisters.”

Moscow has stated on numerous occasions that the downing of the Su-24, which was taking part in an anti-terror op in Syria, was a planned provocation by Ankara.

Russia maintains that the bomber never crossed into Turkey and was attacked in Syrian airspace by an F-16 fighter jet, which was specially awaiting its target.

Russia has also denied Turkey’s assertion that the plane was warned several times before being shot down – a claim that Davutoglu repeated to Al Jazeera. 

Turkey skeptical of Syrian ceasefire  

The PM’s interview with the Qatari broadcaster took place ahead of the ceasefire that came into effect in Syria at midnight on February 27.

READ MORE: 9 violations of Syrian ceasefire in 24 hours - Russian monitors

“Of course, we want to have ceasefire and peace in Syria. There’s no other country more affected by this crisis like Turkey. But if you ask how much I’m optimistic. We have to be realistic.We’re not very optimistic because until now all these diplomatic negotiations are being misused by the regime, by Russia, by Iran and pro-Iranian elements on the ground to kill more people. I have to be very frank. Talking on one side to gain time, and attacking on Syrian civilians on the other side, this initiative can’t be successful,” Davutoglu said.