Damascus warns Ankara to withdraw troops from Syria 'immediately'

Damascus warns Ankara to withdraw troops from Syria 'immediately'
The call, made by Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister, comes after Ankara accused the Assad regime of conducting deadly airstrikes on Turkish troops in al-Bab, in Aleppo province last week
3 min read
28 November, 2016
Turkey's "Euphrates Shield" operation began in Syria in August [Getty]
Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister on Sunday called on Turkey to “immediately” withdraw its troops from Syria.

"Turkey should immediately retreat from the Syrian territories, and as long as Turkey continues occupation of the Syrian lands, the regional situation will not improve," Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad is reported to have told the Lebanese, pro-Syrian regime al-Mayadeen news channel on Sunday. 

Last week Turkey reported that three military personnel had been killed and a further ten injured in purported Syrian regime airstrikes, said to have taken place in the vicinity of al-Bab in Aleppo province. 

However, speaking on Sunday Mikdad said that Ankara only had itself to blame for fatalities that had taken place outside Turkish territory. 

"The Turks should protest at themselves since the incident has happened inside the Syrian territories,” said Mikdad.

Both the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have officially dismissed Turkish claims of their involvement in the al-Bab attacks as “lies”.

Mikdad’s comments come a day after Mohammad Jalal Midou, a senior member of Syria’s parliament warned Ankara that Turkey’s military presence in Syria, and Iraq — where Turkish troops are positioned despite Baghdad’s objections — could have dire consequences. 

"Ankara should know that Syria and Iraq have not thus far disclosed their winning card in battlefields against the Turkish military invasion and when the card is played Ankara's situation will be totally changed,” warned Midou.

Turkey began its military intervention in Syria in August under an operation titled the “Euphrates Shield” involving the deployment of both Turkish soldiers and Ankara-backed Syrian rebels. 

Ostensibly aimed at combating the threat of Islamic State militants along Turkey’s southern border with Syria, Turkey-backed troops have repeatedly clashed with Syrian Kurdish fighters perceived by Erdogan as analogous to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Ankara is keen to prevent such groups uniting a series of autonomous cantons in northern Syria and acquiring further territory in the hinterland border area.

Last week Kurdish forces, which are backed by Washington, threatened to call off an assault on the Islamic State controlled city of Raqqa, after reports that Turkish advances, involving artillery fire, on the city of Manbij in Aleppo province, where Kurdish forces are positioned, had resulted in civilian deaths. 

Kurdish-led forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, while backed by the United States, have been accused by rebel groups of having a tacit alliance with the Syrian government, and of being complicit in the regime siege of rebel-held East Aleppo. 

Although Turkey has financed rebel groups fighting in Syria, heavily criticised the Syrian regime for its actions in the war, and recently called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Aleppo, over the summer Ankara hinted at the possibility of normalising ties with Damascus.

Speaking in July, before the Euphrates Operation began, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said “I am sure that we will return [our] ties with Syria to normal... We need it. We normalised our relations with Israel and Russia. I’m sure we will go back to normal relations with Syria as well.”