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Turkey to take more active role on Syria in next 6 months

Turkey will take a more active role in addressing the conflict in Syria in the next six months to prevent the war-torn country being divided along ethnic lines, Turkish Prime Binali Yildirim said on Saturday.

Bashar al-Assad could have role in Syrian leadership, but only for transitional period, says Turkish PM

A member of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), flashes the sign of victory in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Aug. 14, 2016, more than a week after the SDF, an Arab-Kurdish alliance, pushed ISIS out of the city, which is near the Turkish border. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey will take a more active role in addressing the conflict in Syria in the next six months to prevent the war-torn country being divided along ethnic lines, Turkish Prime Binali Yildirim said on Saturday.

Yildirim told a group of reporters in Istanbul that while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could have a role in the interim leadership, he must play no part in its future.

Syria's more than five-year conflict has taken on an ethnic dimension, with Kurdish groups carving out their own regions, and periodically battling groups from Syria's Arab majority, whose priority is to overthrow Assad.

Turkey fears the strengthening of Kurdish militant groups in Syria will further embolden its own Kurdish insurgency, which flared anew following the collapse of a ceasefire between militants and the state last year.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildrim says his country is willing to accept a role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a transitional period but insists he has no place in Syria's future. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Turkey is one of the main supporters of rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, and hosts more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

"Could Syria carry Assad in the long-term? Certainly not," Yildirim said. "The United States knows and Russia knows that Assad does not appear to be someone who can bring (the people) together."

"We may sit and talk (with him) for the transition. A transition may be facilitated. But we believe that there should be no (Kurdish rebels), Daesh or Assad in Syria's future," he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

 Yildirim also denied news reports that Russia was seeking to use Turkey's southern air base of Incirlik for its operations in Syria. The base is currently being used by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

"They have no request for Incirlik," Yildirim said. "I don't think they have a need for Incirlik. Because they already have two bases in Syria."

Russian warships in the Mediterranean Sea fired cruise missiles at targets near the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, a further sign of Moscow's broadening military effort in Syria days after it began to fly bombing missions from an airbase in Iran.

Russian air power had helped al-Assad make steady advances against rebels seeking to oust him since Moscow's intervention a year ago, but a recent insurgent advance in Aleppo has checked that momentum.

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