Turkey refuses Russian 'excuse' over Syria strikes

Ankara (AFP) –


Turkey said Friday that it did not accept Russia's "excuse" that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime's continued bombardments in the last rebel bastion of Idlib.

"In Syria, who are the regime's guarantors? Russia and Iran," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

"Thus we do not accept the excuse that 'We cannot make the regime listen to us'," he said.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has backed rebel forces in the eight-year conflict.

They have worked closely to find a political solution under the Astana process despite being on opposing sides.

Cavusoglu insisted moderate Syrian rebels in Idlib -- for which Turkey acts as guarantor in peace negotiations -- had stuck to their obligations under a buffer zone agreement reached last September.

But he accused Damascus of sending armed radical groups to Idlib from Aleppo, East Ghouta and Hama to foment trouble and provide an excuse for renewed conflict.

"We knew in the future, after other areas had been captured, that the regime would attack Idlib using the excuse of the radical groups' presence after sending them there," Cavusoglu said.

Turkey says its observation posts in Idlib have twice been attacked by Syrian regime forces -- once in May and again on Thursday -- leading to several injuries.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday it was "not possible for Turkey to stay silent" if such attacks continued.

"We will do what is necessary because we want peace to be sovereign here, for the deaths to stop," he told a press conference in Istanbul.

Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new ceasefire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments -- a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Hundreds have been killed in the recent bombardments, with Turkey fearful of a mass refugee exodus from the province that is home to three million people.

There was yet more disagreement over the Thursday's attack on Turkish observation posts, which Russia claimed were the work of "terrorists" and that it had responded with air strikes.

Turkey's defence ministry said reports that it had provided coordinates to the Russians for these air strikes "do not reflect the reality".