Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that Turkey’s military operation in Syria was against “terror” groups only, rowing back on his previous comments saying it was targeting President Bashar al-Assad.
“The operation’s target is not against a country or a person but against terrorist organisations only. No one should have any doubts or take our statements to mean something else,” Erdogan told local neighborhood chiefs in Ankara.
Erdogan had on Tuesday said Turkey launched the offensive to “put an end to the rule of the tyrant Assad who carries out state terror, not for anything else”.
The next day, Syria’s close ally Moscow which is providing key military support to Damascus, demanded an explanation as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Erdogan’s comments did not reflect his previous remarks nor Russia’s “understanding of the situation”.
The Syrian foreign ministry also denounced the comments, saying they showed “clearly that the flagrant Turkish aggression against the Syrian territory is only the result of the ambitions and the illusions of an extremist despot”.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Syria three times on the phone this week including on Wednesday night.
“A telephone conversation was held on Wednesday between our President and President Erdogan addressing this subject, and Erdogan gave clarifications in this regard,” Yuri Ushakov, Russian presidential aide said in a press statement on Thursday.
Moscow and Ankara have become closer since ties were restored this summer after Turkey shot down a Russian plane on the Syrian border in November last year.