Turkish troops guarding historic tomb in Syria not trapped by jihadists, FM says
ANKARATurkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has refuted claims that Turkish soldiers protecting the Tomb of Süleyman Şah in northern Syria have become trapped by nearby Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.
“It’s definitely not true,” Çavuşoğlu said Feb. 20 at a joint press conference after a Reform Monitoring Group meeting.
Turkish troops were reportedly besieged by ISIL members, as the Tomb of Süleyman Şah – a formal exclave of Turkey around 25 kilometers from the Turkish border – is located among villages controlled by jihadists. Media reports claimed that Turkey was in negotiations with ISIL militants for the release of the Turkish soldiers in exchange for arrested jihadist militants.
Train-equip program to start in early March
Meanwhile, Turkey and the United States aim to start a train-and-equip program for the Syrian opposition early March, said Çavuşoğlu, adding that all decisions would be taken in consultation between Turkey and the U.S. and that none of the steps taken would be against “Turkey’s interests.”
Some 1,500-2,000 Syrians will be trained each year as part of the program with the U.S., the minister said.
Çavuşoğlu reiterated that the program aimed to strengthen the Syrian opposition in order to fight against all kinds of threats, including ones emanating from terrorist groups and the Syrian government. The U.S. and Turkey signed an agreement late Feb. 19 to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition.
The deal was inked by Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass. The deal does not include the use of İncirlik Airbase and the issue is still being discussed, diplomatic sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.