Turkey’s ‘Juha’s nail’ in Assad’s land: Ankara threatens to strike Syria’s Kurds
ISTANBUL - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syria of letting Turkey's Kurdish rebels operate inside the north of the country and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike against them.
"In the north, it (President Bashar al-Assad's regime) has allotted five provinces to the Kurds, to the terrorist organisation," Erdogan said on Turkish television late Wednesday, referring to the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK).
He said the move was explicitly aimed against Turkey and warned that "there will undoubtedly be a response on our part to this attitude."
Asked if Ankara would strike fleeing rebels after an attack on Turkish soil, Erdogan said: "That's not even a matter of discussion, it is a given. That is the objective, that is what must be done."
"That is what we have been doing and will continue to do in Iraq," he said during a programme aired on Kanal 24.
"If we occassionally launch aerial strikes against terrorist areas it's because these are measures taken because of defence needs."
Turkey regularly bombs suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq.
Relations between Turkey and Syria have steadily soured since the start of the uprising against Assad's rule in Syria in March 2011, with Erdogan criticising the regime's crackdown against the revolt.
The question of Kurdish ambitions in Syria has been a top concern of late for Turkey, which has long battled the PKK and its campaign for a Kurdistan homeland that would span parts of Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
The PKK first took up arms in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives. It has since been listed as a terrorist group by much of the world community.
In northern Iraq, Kurds have carved out a semi-autonomous region since the US invasion of 2003, and fears are on the rise in Turkey that the same could happen on their doorstep in northern Syria.
Turkish newspapers have published with alarm pictures of Kurdish flags fluttering from buildings in northern Syria and reported that parts of the region had fallen into the hands of the PKK or its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
"It is not hard to predict that the PKK will strengthen its presence in this climate," Fikret Bila, a columnist for the Milliyet daily, wrote on Thursday.
If they do manage to take control of the region, "it will be possible for the (PKK) to launch attacks into Turkey from the Syrian border," he added.
The head of the opposition Syrian National Council said this week that Syrian forces had "entrusted" the northern region to the PKK or the PYD and then withdrawn.
Turkish officials have frequently accused Syria of aiding the PKK, saying attacks targeting Turkish security forces were carried out by rebels infiltrating from Syria.