Turkish premier crosses into Syria to visit Ottoman tomb

Davutoglu made the surprise visit to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the Ottoman empire’s founder Osman I

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Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu slipped across the border into Syria on Sunday to visit a historic tomb that was relocated earlier this year away from militant-controlled territory.

Davutoglu, accompanied by his defense minister and army commanders, made the surprise visit to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the Ottoman empire’s founder Osman I, his office announced.

The mausoleum now lies just 200 meters from the Turkish border inside Syrian territory, after Turkish soldiers in February staged an unprecedented incursion deep inside Syria to move the tomb from its previous location.

The government ordered the tomb -- considered sovereign Turkish territory -- to be moved due to security concerns as it was in an area controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, about 37 kilometers inside Syrian territory.

Images from Davutoglu’s visit show him paying his respects at the tomb, which now lies in the settlement of Eshme and is easily visible from Turkish territory, and embracing Turkish soldiers who are permanently stationed there.

“Mr Prime Minister has long had an intention to visit the tomb on the ground since it was relocated,” a government official told AFP.

“It was put into practice when there was such an opportunity.”

The relocation of the tomb sparked severe criticism from opposition parties which lambasted the operation as a retreat that meekly handed over the area to ISIS insurgents.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected the criticism, saying the move was motivated by concerns that the tomb and Turkish guards could have come under attack from extremists, and was not a retreat.

Before their withdrawal, Turkish troops blew up the building complex that housed the tomb so it could not be used or desecrated by militants.

The tomb of Suleyman Shah, who is said to have died in 1236, is considered Turkish territory under the 1921 Treaty of Ankara between the Turkish authorities and France, which then controlled French-mandated Syria.

The latest visit comes amid speculation that Turkey is preparing to intervene militarily in Syria, a claim rejected by Davutoglu.

Some opposition politicians claimed this week that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) might resort to military operations in Syria to boost its popularity ahead of a June 7 parliamentary election.

“No, there is no situation right now that requires Turkey’s involvement,” Davutoglu told Turkish media this weekend, labelling the claims as “empty words.”

Davutoglu continued his election rally on Sunday in the city of Sanliurfa in the southeast near the Syrian border after his visit to the tomb.

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