Turkish PM: No change in Syria policy after Shah Firat operation
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday that Turkey's policy on Syria did not change following Saturday's military operation into Aleppo to retrieve the remains of Suleyman Shah, Anadolu Agency reported.
Suleyman Shah was the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. His tomb, and about 40 Turkish soldiers who guarded the Turkish territory inside war-torn Syria, were relocated Saturday during the "Shah Firat" military operation.
"[The reason] is to protect our rights designated by international law, ensure the safety of our soldiers and preserve our historical heritage," he told a press conference at Ankara's Esenboga Airport after the Council of Ministers meeting and before his departure to Hungary for an official visit on Monday.
Davutoglu also said the operation was a strategic step to prevent any exploitation of the tomb and Turkish presence there, in addition to other possible attempts to use it as a threat or a way to blackmail Turkey.
Davutoglu said that his country's Syria policy still has its foundations in the same principles independently from the Shah Firat operation, which was conducted due to the rising security concerns over escalating clashes between groups that are fighting inside the country, mainly threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
"Turkey's Syria policy is based not on conjuncture, but on principles," Davutoglu said.
He defined the principles as enabling the Syrian people to determine their future on their own, maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria and taking the side of the Syrian people against the activities of both the Syrian regime and other terrorist organizations, mainly ISIL.
"Under the new circumstances, our position against the Syrian regime or DAESH remains unchanged," Davutoglu said. "We are against both the atrocities of the regime and the DAESH terror, but we stand by the Syrian people."
The Turkish premier said that the Shah Firat operation displayed Turkey's power and set a good example of its "deterrent force" before the eyes of all related parties of the Syrian war and the whole world.
"Just as on Saturday night, we will not hesitate to take any unilateral step in the context of our national strategy when it comes to our national security," Davutoglu added.
Asked about the reaction of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the operation, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government would not take the regime's criticism seriously.
Following the operation, Damascus claimed that Ankara had not waited for an approval and had therefore violated the agreement over the exclave, although the Turkish foreign ministry said it had informed the Syrian government of the operation beforehand.
The two-pronged operation began late Saturday and ended in the early hours of Sunday. It brought the remains of Shah and sacred relics from the original exclave in Karakozak village in Munbic, Syria, some 37 kilometers away from the border, to Turkey.
At the same time, Turkey secured Ashme, another area in Syria close to its border, which has become the Shah's temporary burial place.
The operation involved nearly 600 troops and 39 tanks.
According to a treaty signed between Turkey and France in 1921, Turkey has the right to guard the tomb and raise a flag over it.