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Turkey Aiding Flow of Islamist Fighters Into Syria: Assad

Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Turkey is funneling Islamist and other fighters from more than 80 countries into Syria and will ultimately pay a heavy price for its association with “terrorists,” according to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government “is responsible for the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians,” Assad said, according to the transcript of an interview with Turkey’s Halk TV and Yurt newspaper today. “These terrorists enter Syria from neighboring countries, primarily Turkey.”

Syria’s two-and-a-half year uprising has left more than 115,000 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group. He’s accused by the U.S. and human rights groups of using chemical weapons as well as an array of conventional armaments against rebel fighters and civilians.

Assad says he’s fighting Islamist fanatics, a charge he repeated in the Oct. 1 interview with Turkish media, according to a transcript published on the website of Halk TV ahead of today’s broadcast.

Tens of thousands of “terrorists” are fighting in Syria, Assad said, adding that it is not possible to determine their exact number. “The main problem is new terrorists infiltrate through borders, as much as we kill them,” Assad said.

Turkish authorities have blamed a Turkish group linked to the Syrian regime for car bombings that killed 53 people in Reyhanli near the Syrian border in May.

Family Vacation

Turkey, which has opened its doors to more than 500,000 Syrian refugees, denies arming Syria’s rebels. Ties between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Assad, who vacationed together with their families in 2008, have deteriorated since the Turkish leader urged Assad to stop massacring his own people and step down.

Turkey has said it was ready to join any international coalition to punish the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons outside Damascus on Aug. 21. Turkey’s parliament yesterday extended the mandate authorizing the government to send armed forces abroad, including to Syria, for one year.

Assad again denied the allegations, arguing that ordinary army units don’t have chemical weapons and blaming “terrorist groups” for the attack that killed about 1,400 people.

The United Nations Security Council on Sept. 28 unanimously approved an agreement to eliminate all of Syria’s chemical weapons and UN weapons teams are currently in the country.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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