Turkey fortifies Syria border, PM says no incursion

Turkish soldiers stand guard near the Mursitpinar border gate in Suruc, bordering with the northern Kurdish town of Kobani, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey. (File: Reuters)

Turkey has deployed additional troops and equipment along part of its border with Syria as fighting north of the city of Aleppo intensifies, security sources said, but Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said there were no immediate plans for any incursion.

Security sources and officials in Ankara said the Turkish army had stepped up security, sending additional equipment and soldiers including special forces in recent days, due to heavy fighting in the countryside north of Aleppo.

Syrian insurgents led by Islamist groups began a major offensive to gain full control of the divided northern city, a monitor and rebels said on Thursday, a move which would be a major blow for President Bashar al-Assad.

“It’s correct that we have taken precautions to protect our border. If there’s any circumstance across the border that threatens Turkish security, orders to act have been given,” Davutoglu told broadcaster Kanal 7 late on Thursday.

“(But) no one should have the expectation that Turkey will enter Syria tomorrow or in the near term,” he said.

Some media had speculated that an imminent cross-border operation was being planned.

“If anything occurred that were to threaten Turkish security, we wouldn’t wait for tomorrow, we would go right in. But it’s wrong to expect that Turkey would undertake such a unilateral intervention in the immediate term if there is no such risk,” Davutoglu said.

The sound of intense fighting, including explosions, could be heard from the Turkish border town of Kilis late on Thursday, about 50 kilometers north of the Syrian city of Azaz, witnesses said.

The security sources said the fighting in Azaz was between hardline Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and a joint force of Al Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot Nusra Front and Western-backed rebels who have been clashing in north Aleppo countryside in recent weeks.

Davutoglu said Assad, whose forces and allied militias hold western districts of Aleppo, had been cooperating with ISIS militants in attacking the moderate opposition.

He said Syrians in Aleppo would not receive basic necessities like food and medicine if fighting cut the city off, creating a massive new influx of people to Turkey, which is already sheltering more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45