President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey had no intention of seizing Syrian territory, despite ramping up its attacks on Kurdish forces in the war-torn north.
Erdogan’s comments came days after a Turkish airstrike on a Syrian border post, led by regime forces, reportedly killed 17 fighters.
A war observer said Kurds manning some of the Syrian border posts and regime forces were killed in the Turkish raids.
The official Syrian news agency said three government soldiers were killed.
Turkey said it was responding to an attack on its own positions along the border that killed two soldiers.
The firefight marked one of the biggest escalations since Ankara and Damascus attacked each other in 2020.
Erdogan appeared to be trying to calm tensions in comments to reporters aboard his return flight from his first war visit to Ukraine.
“We have no regard for the territory of Syria because the people of Syria are our brothers,” Turkish media quoted Erdogan as saying.
“The regime should be aware of this.”
Erdogan’s visit to Ukraine came two weeks after he flew to Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that also covered Syria.
Putin’s support was essential to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad survive an 11-year conflict against rebel groups partly supported by Turkey.
Erdogan said he told Putin he wanted to work more closely with Russia in the northern Syrian regions, where Ankara is targeting Kurds it considers “terrorists”.
“We are in touch with Russia at every step we take in Syria,” Erdogan said.
– Blaming Assad? –
The border dispute came amid growing fears that Turkey is preparing to launch its fourth cross-border offensive against Kurdish forces since 2016.
Erdogan accuses Kurdish fighters in Syria — allied to the United States against Islamic State jihadists — as banned militants with ties to groups waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
He repeated his slogan on Friday that Turkish troops could attack Syrian Kurds “suddenly overnight”.
But he also hinted that Turkey may be open to blaming Assad after fiercely resisting his regime.
“There should be no resentment in politics,” Erdogan said.
He pointed out that Turkey had made amends in recent years with its former rivals Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
“We need to take further steps with Syria,” he said without fully explaining what that means.
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu last week sparked protests in northern Syrian regions under Ankara’s control by calling for “reconciliation” between rebel groups it supports and Assad.
He also revealed that last year he had his first brief meeting with a Syrian foreign minister since 2011.
“You must always be at peace,” Erdogan said Friday. “You should have the chance to meet at any time.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)