World Bulletin/News Desk
Turkey's prime minister has harshly criticized Lebanese Hezbollah fighters for driving Syrian opposition fighters from the town of Qusair near the Lebanese border along with Syrian soldiers.
The fighting was raging in Syria's Qusair, as well as in areas to the east where several army bases are located, and in the Hezbollah-held southern and western approaches to the town.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan branded the move by Hezbollah to send its militants to fight in Qusair as “foreign intervention,” in an apparent response to others blaming Turkey for interfering in Syria's domestic affairs.
In a press conference in Ankara as he was summing up his US visit, he told a reporter, “I think the same as you,” when he asked if Hezbollah fighters' involvement in Syria could be regarded as a foreign intervention.
Erdoğan's government was under fire in the past week by the Turkish opposition for pulling Turkey into the quagmire in Syria after twin car bombs killed at least 51 civilians in Reyhanlı district on the Syrian border. The Syrian government, along with Iran, accused Ankara of interfering in what they called Syria's “internal affairs” as Turkey continues to provide assistance to the opposition fighting to oust embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He acknowledged that his government is providing logistical help to the Syrian opposition but referred them as only “humanitarian.” He said Turkey is hosting over 300,000 Syrian refugees inside Turkey while sending basic humanitarian aid such as food and clothing to “oppressed” people inside Syria.
He criticized those who he said are accusing Turkey of interfering in Syria for not making similar statements about Hezbollah's involvement in the fighting.
Hezbollah's role in the Qusair battle, its biggest military commitment yet in support of Assad, has prompted international alarm that Syria's civil war may spread to Lebanon and beyond. The United States has called urgently for restraint.
The Qusair region, peppered by Sunni and Shiite villages, has been an important supply route from Lebanon for rebels in the central province of Homs, a major prize in the conflict.
Assad, who is from Syria's minority Alawite sect and has long backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, is fighting a Sunni-led revolt which began with peaceful protests in March 2011. His violent response eventually prompted the opposition to take up arms.
Erdoğan also speculated that there are foreign fighters other than Hezbollah fighting against the opposition in the region. “There are other forces besides Hezbollah, fighting inside Syria. How will they explain this?” Erdoğan said, without elaborating.
He urged the media to report on organizations he said are linked to other countries.
It was not immediately clear to which countries he was referring to but a number of reports indicated that Shiite fighters from Iraq and military advisers from Iran were involved in the fighting.
Erdoğan defended Turkey, saying it has no military power inside Syria and that his government is only providing what he called “logistical help” to the Syrian opposition. He said Turkey has never done what Hezbollah or “other powers” are doing in Syria, referring to direct military fighting.
Asked about whether his government had shifted in its Syria policies after a meeting with US President Barack Obama last Thursday or made any concessions, Erdoğan only responded that he has “never changed a policy line he believed in.” He said he has been in government for more than a decade and that he has been in politics for four decades, and dismissed claims that he made a shift in policy.
The prime minister could possibly be replying to reports appearing in the media that he has softened his tone on Syria after meeting with Obama. Erdoğan downplayed a peace conference on Syria expected to take place in Geneva early in June before departing for Washington but said he will visit Russia and Gulf countries after meetings in Washington as part of a diplomatic initiative to end the 26-month crisis.Last Mod: 21 Mayıs 2013, 17:21