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Turkey warns will hit back if ISIS attacks Syria exclave

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says ‘we will absolutely not hesitate to respond if something happens there’

Published: Updated:

Turkey warned on Saturday it would not hesitate to strike back at Islamic State jihadists if they attacked Turkish troops stationed at Ankara’s exclave inside Syria.

“We will absolutely not hesitate to respond if something happens there,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, referring to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman dynasty Osman I.

The small patch of land inside Syria around the tomb is considered Turkish territory under a 1920s treaty signed between the Turkish authorities and France, who at the time had a mandate on Syria.

“Forty of our soldiers are stationed in this zone, which is Turkish territory,” he said.

“If one so much as touches a hair on the their heads, Turkey with its army will do all that is necessary and everything will change from that moment on,” Erdogan warned.

His warning came just two days after Turkey’s top general issued an unusual message of support for the Turkish troops stationed at the tomb, saying that the army “will be there for you the moment we hear a single word from you.”

Some press reports said this week that the exclave had been surrounded by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadists, who have taken over swathes of northern Syria, and the few dozen, lightly-armed Turkish troops stationed there had been taken hostage.

Turkey’s leaders have categorically dismissed the reports.

Its parliament this week authorized the government to take military action against ISIS extremists, whose forces have been battling Kurdish fighters around a key town just across the border with Turkey, but so far no plans to carry out military operations have been announced.

Also on Saturday, Erdogan reacted angrily to comments by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that Turkey and others in the region had financed and armed jihadist organisations in Syria.

“If Mr Biden used such language, that would make him a man of the past for me,” Erdogan told a press conference in Istanbul.

He was responding to comments made by Biden at Harvard University on Thursday, in which the vice president bluntly criticized allies in Turkey and the Arab world for supporting Sunni militant groups, such as IS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.

“Our allies in the region were our biggest problem in Syria,” Biden said in response to a question about whether the US should have acted more quickly in the region.