Turkey accuses Russia of hitting Syria rebels to bolster regime
ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
AP PhotoTurkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Oct.2 accused Russia of targeting moderate Syrian rebels in its air strikes in Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking to Turkish reporters on his plane as he returned from the UN General Assembly in New York, Davutoğlu rejected Moscow's insistence that its campaign of air strikes launched this week was aimed at Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadists.
"The outcome is very worrisome," Davutoğlu was quoted as saying in Hürriyet newspaper.
"The operation has been entirely against positions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)," said Davutoğlu, referring to the main moderate armed group fighting Assad and which Turkey supports.
"This is clearly supporting the Syrian regime which is on the verge of collapse," he added. "I don't think it will be of benefit to destroy the moderate opposition," Davutoğlu added.
Russia and Turkey have been at odds over the Syrian conflict since the unrest erupted in 2011, with Ankara calling for the ousting of Assad but Moscow one of his most important supporters.
Davutoğlu said while Iran, Assad's other main international ally, was providing backing with military personnel on the ground, Russia was supporting the regime from the air.
"And until now, it was namely Russia and Iran who were speaking out against the need for outside intervention in Syria," he said.
Turkey was initially wary of taking tough action against ISIL jihadists who have captured swathes of Syria.
But Ankara is now seen as a full member of the US-led coalition against the jihadists and has carried out its own air strikes on their positions inside Syria.
Davutoğlu complained that the positions hit by Russia in its Syria air campaign would "benefit ISIL".
The prime minister said that Russia's military support for the Assad regime had been no secret, pointing to the Russian warships that had been seen sailing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul in recent weeks.
"What they were carrying and where they were going, everyone knows," said Davutoğlu.
Russia's strikes in Syria came just a week after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin and attend the opening of a new mosque.
It is still unclear if Putin gave Erdogan any advance warning of Russia's plan for the air strikes at the talks.
Davutoğlu said that Russia had still not provided a full report of "where the intervention had taken place".