World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey would fight against ISIL militants and other "terrorist" groups in the region but said it would stick to its aim of seeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power.
The advance of ISIL insurgents to within sight of the Turkish army on the Syrian border has piled pressure on Ankara to play a greater role in the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the insurgents in Syria and Iraq.
"We will fight effectively against both (ISIL) and all other terrorist organisations within the region; this will always be our priority," Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of parliament.
"We will (also) continue to prioritise our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all (of its) citizens."
Turkey shares a 1,200 km (750-mile) border with Iraq and Syria and is already struggling with 1.5 million refugees from the Syrian war alone.
It deployed tanks and armoured vehicles on the border with Syria this week as fighting intensified and the government has sent a proposal to parliament which would extend its powers to authorise cross-border military incursions.
But it fears that U.S.-led air strikes, if not accompanied by a broader political strategy, could strengthen Assad and bolster Kurdish militants allied to Kurds in Turkey who have fought for three decades for greater autonomy.
"Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger," Erdogan said, adding that the safe return of Syrian refugees in Turkey was also a priority.
"We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism. However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it."
TURKISH TERRITORY AT RISK
A vow to defend the 700-year-old tomb of Suleiman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in a Turkish enclave in northern Syria could decide Turkey's role in the military campaign against ISIL.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Tuesday that the militants were advancing on the white stone mausoleum, guarded by several dozen Turkish soldiers and perched on a manicured lawn under a Turkish flag on the banks of the Euphrates.
The tomb was made Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when France ruled Syria. Ankara regards it as sovereign territory and has repeatedly made clear that it will defend the mausoleum if it is attacked.
"We can't leave that place, which is ours through agreements, unprotected. Regardless of pride, this is important for our historical memory. This is important for everyone, not just for Turks," said Ilber Ortayli, a leading Turkish historian at Istanbul's Galatasaray University.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister at the time, said in March Turkey would retaliate against any attack on the tomb, 30 km (20 miles) from the Turkish border, as ISIL tightened its grip on surrounding areas.
Other academics question how knowledgeable the average Turk is about the tomb's history and the extent to which an ISIL attack on it would spark popular support for a Turkish military intervention.
Hasan Unal, professor of international relations at Ankara's Atilim University, said the government could play it either way.
"It would depend largely on how the government presents it. If it had a serious intention to take part in the war, the tomb would look to have greater significance ... But if it didn't, it could downgrade its significance in the public eye," he said.
The tomb also made news in March when it cropped up in a leaked audio recording on YouTube of top security officials, including Davutoglu and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, discussing possible military action in Syria.
The ISIL have destroyed several tombs and mosques in Syria.
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