Turkey Premier Says Keeping Syria Intact Is Aim of Operation

  • Prime Minister Binali Yildirim speaks in Bloomberg interview
  • Comdemns allies’ backing of Kurdish YPG against Islamic State

Turkey is seeking to prevent a breakup of Syria on ethnic lines with its military operations in the country, according to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

“Turkey has had this aim since the beginning,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg in Istanbul on Friday. That, he said, refers to “protecting the territorial integrity of Syria, preventing the dissolution of Syria, keeping all ethnic groups together, ending conflict and forming a government in which all Syrian people take part."

Binali Yildirim on Sept. 2.

Photographer: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

Turkey’s incursion on Aug. 24 introduced a new level of complexity to the five-year-old Syrian war, with tanks and air strikes helping to insert about 1,500 rebels into the region around Jarablus to push Islamic State and Kurdish fighters out. The clashes with Kurds have been criticized by other state actors in the Syrian war -- including Russia and the U.S. -- which have called for the fight to be focused on Islamic State. Iran said Turkey’s intervention was a violation of Syrian sovereignty that risked the lives of more civilians.

“Those criticisms are without foundation,” Yildirim said. American-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria are “PKK terrorists disguised as a different group," he said, referring to the separatist group that both Turkey and the U.S. consider a terrorist organization for its attacks inside Turkey. He called it a “huge contradiction" that “some of our friends” have chosen to back one terrorist group to fight another in Syria.

“The criticizing parties should be a bit considerate: they don’t get hurt, Turkey gets hurt," Yildirim said, citing a 911-kilometer (566 mile) shared border between Turkey and Syria. "Of course, we are working to find a solution in cooperation with Russia, Iran and coalition powers such as the U.S. Our goal is to ensure stability and peace in Syria in the future."

That goal continues to be elusive, with Turkey insisting on the removal of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, whose regime is backed by Russia and Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin told Bloomberg in an interview in Vladivostok on Thursday that the U.S. and Russia were close to striking a deal on fighting terrorists in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to discuss Syria with both Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama at the G-20 Summit this weekend in Hangzhou, China.

In the meantime, the Turkish incursion is open-ended and will continue until terrorist threats from Syria are eliminated, Yildirim said. The areas in which Turkey and the rebels it backed are operating have been cleared of non-armed personnel, he said, amid claims that Kurdish civilians have been killed.

“The innocent Syrian people have already migrated to Turkey,” he said. “There are no civilians living there anymore.”

— With assistance by Taylan Bilgic, Ercan Ersoy, and Simin Demokan

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