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Ankara sent no troops to Syria: Defense minister

Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (photo by AFP)

Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz has rejected an assertion by the Syrian government that Turkish forces have entered Syrian territory to help foreign-backed militants fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara is not considering sending troops into neighboring Syria, Yilmaz told a Turkish parliamentary commission on Monday.

In a Sunday protest letter to the Security Council, the Syrian Foreign Ministry had said that “around 100 gunmen some of whom are believed to be Turkish forces and Turkish mercenaries” entered Syria through the A’zaz district of the northern Aleppo Province near the Turkish border on Saturday.

The letter said that the Turkish forces were accompanied by a dozen pick-up trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on them.

“It is not true. There is no thought of Turkish soldiers entering Syria,” Yilmaz said, referring to the letter.

Displaced Syrians are pictured in a camp near the city of A’zaz, northern Syria, February 6, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The Turkish minister further denied reports that Saudi Arabia had dispatched warplanes to the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey for the declared aim of fighting Takfiri Daesh terrorists in Syria. He, however, said a decision had been reached for Riyadh to send four F-16 jets.

This is while a Saudi military spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri, had confirmed the dispatch of the fighter jets on Saturday.

On Sunday, the Turkish army hit A’zaz with artillery fire. The attacks were being launched for a second consecutive day. They were launched days after Syrian Kurdish fighters seized the area from Daesh terrorists.

Ankara considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to be the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous Kurdish region inside Turkey since the 1980s.

The YPG, which controls almost all parts of Syria’s entire northern border with Turkey, has been fighting against Daesh.

A number of countries, including the US and France, have urged Turkey to stop shelling the positions of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Turkey has been among the main supporters of the militant groups fighting against the government in Syria, with reports saying that Ankara actively trains and arms the Takfiri terrorists there and facilitates their safe passage into the conflict-ridden Arab country.

Ankara has also been accused on numerous occasions of being involved in illegal oil trade with Daesh. Russia has released pictures and videos purportedly showing the movement of oil tankers from Daesh-controlled areas in Syria toward Turkey.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. According to a new report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the conflict has claimed the lives of over 470,000 people, injured 1.9 million others, and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population of about 23 million within or beyond its borders.

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