President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday blasted as “laughable” Russia’s accusation that Turkey was actively preparing to invade Syria.
“I find this Russian statement laughable... rather it is Russia that is currently engaged in an invasion of Syria,” Erdogan said, quoted by the state-run Anatolia news agency.
Previously, a senior Turkish government official said on Friday that Turkey is not planning a military incursion into Syria and Russian talk of such action is propaganda.
Erdogan said Russia must be held accountable for the people it has killed in Syria, saying Moscow and Damascus were together responsible for 400,000 deaths there, Dogan News Agency reported on Friday.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Senegalese counterpart while on a state visit to the West African country, Erdogan also said Russia was engaged in an invasion of Syria and accused it of trying to set up a “boutique state” for its longtime ally President Bashar al Assad.
“Turkey does not have any plans or thoughts of staging a military campaign or ground incursion in Syria,” the official told Reuters, adding Russia was stepping up its own military campaign in Syria every day instead of working for a solution.
“Turkey is part of a coalition, is working with its allies, and will continue to do so. As we have repeatedly said, Turkey will not act unilaterally,” the official said.
Russia said on Thursday it suspected Turkey was preparing a military incursion into Syria, as a Syrian army source said Aleppo would soon be encircled by government forces with Russian air support.
Turkey in turn accused Moscow of trying to divert attention from its own “crimes” in Syria, and said Aleppo was threatened with a “siege of starvation”. It said Turkey had the right to take any measures to protect its security.
In another sign of the spreading international ramifications of the five-year-old Syrian war, Saudi Arabia said it was ready to participate in ground operations against ISIS in if the U.S.-led alliance decided to launch them.
The United Nations on Wednesday suspended the first peace talks in two years, halting an effort that seemed doomed from the start as the war raged unabated. Washington said on Thursday however it was hopeful they would resume by the end of the month, and Russia said it expected that no later than Feb. 25.
Donors convened in London to tackle the refugee crisis created by the conflict. British Prime Minister David Cameron said they raised $11 billion for Syrian humanitarian needs over the next four years.
Turkey said at the conference up to 70,000 refugees from Aleppo were moving toward the border to escape air strikes.
Footage online showed hundreds of people, mostly women, children and the elderly, marching towards Turkey’s Onucpinar border gate, carrying carpets, blankets and food on their backs.
Four months of Russian air strikes have tipped the momentum of the war Assad’s way. With Moscow’s help and allies including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian fighters, the Syrian army is regaining areas on key fronts in the west.
Russia’s defense ministry said it had registered “a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish Armed Forces for active actions on the territory of Syria”.
Any Turkish incursion would risk direct confrontation between Russia and a NATO member.
“The Russians are trying to hide their crimes in Syria,” said a senior official in Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office.
“They are simply diverting attention from their attacks on civilians as a country already invading Syria. Turkey has all the rights to take any measures to protect its own security.”
Meanwhile on Friday, Russia flatly rejected Western accusations that it had sabotaged Syria peace talks in Geneva by militarily backing the Damascus regime’s offensive in Aleppo.
(With AFP and Reuters)SHOW MORE