Turkish military enters Syria to evacuate soldiers, relocate tomb
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Turkey launched an overnight military operation into neighbouring Syria to evacuate troops guarding an Ottoman tomb and to move the crypt to a new location, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday.
Davutoglu said nearly 600 troops and 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers were involved in the operation. One group crossed into Syrian territory to reach the tomb, just over the border near the town of Kobane, while a second group took control of an area near the Turkish border where authorities plan to move the tomb.
“[The Turkish government] responded to what they called ‘security concerns’ about this tomb. About two years ago, an Islamic militia commander in that area threatened to overrun the tomb and actually said that Turkish flesh tasted sweet, as if he was planning to eat the soldiers there,” said Jasper Mortimer, FRANCE 24's correspondent in Turkey.
Turkish enclave threatened by IS group
The Syrian government said on Sunday that a Turkish incursion into northern Syria was an act of "flagrant aggression" and that it would hold Ankara responsible for its repercussions.
In a statement read out on state television, Syria said the Turkish government had informed the Syrian consulate in Istanbul about the operation to relocate the tomb of a figure revered in Turkey, but had not awaited Syria's agreement.
One soldier was killed in an accident during the operation, Davutoglu said. The troops hoisted the Turkish flag on the future site of the tomb, he added.
The tomb belongs to Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. The tomb, once some 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Turkey on the banks of the Euphrates River, was in Syria’s embattled Aleppo province and is considered Turkish territory.
Some 40 Turkish soldiers once guarded the tomb in Syria, making them a target for the Islamic State group and other militants in Syria’s long-running civil war.
“With the announcement this past week that Turkey and the US were going to train soldiers to fight IS, clearly, the Turkish government thought that its troops there were vulnerable and it’s fortunate that they got them out before an attack took place,” reported FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer.
Tomb’s complex ‘destroyed by Turkish troops’
Davutoglu said Turkish troops later destroyed the tomb’s complex, apparently to prevent it from being used by Islamic State (IS) group militants.
Authorities launched the operation around 9pm Saturday and ended it Sunday morning, he said.
The site along the Euphrates River is revered by Turkey, a strongly nationalist country whose rights there stem from a 1921 treaty with France, then the colonial power in Syria. The Ottoman Empire collapsed in the early 20th century after World War I.
In the 1970s, Turkey moved the mausoleum to its last location because the old site at a castle further south in Syria was to be inundated by the waters of a new dam.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
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