Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused of arming Kurdish separatists for attacks against Turkish government


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The Independent Online

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of arming Kurdish separatists who have stepped up attacks against the Turkish government - meddling that has the potential to lead to a major inflammation of the conflict outside war-ravaged Syria. 

Sporadic clashes have broken out between the Turkish government and militants from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in recent weeks, with one soldier killed and at least 11 injured in an ambush on a military bus in the western province of Izmir today.

"Assad gave them weapons support… this is not a fantasy,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told local media. “We have taken necessary measures against this threat."

Since the outbreak of fighting in Aleppo, Assad has pulled his troops out of towns in Syrian Kurdistan, leaving them in control of the PKK-linked Democratic Union Party (PYD), a move that angered Turkey as it fears that could invigorate its Kurdish militants.

With at least one-in-six of Turkey’s citizens Kurdish, there are fears that Ankara, which makes frequent cross-border raids into Iraqi territory to seek out PKK militants, may be driven to undertake similar action into Syria.

Assad has resorted to extreme tactics to cling on to power as high-level defections pressure the regime. He today appointed a replacement for defected prime minister Riad Hijab who fled to Jordan denouncing Assad’s “genocide”.

In appointing Wael Nader al-Halqi, from the province of Daraa, the President continued the long-standing tradition of giving the position to a Sunni muslim, a move designed to appease the majority, though the role holds little power.

In Tehran, foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi called for “serious and inclusive” talks between the government and opposition groups after representatives from more than 25 nations, including Russia, China, Algeria and Venezuela, met to discuss the crisis. All those in attendance had given at least tacit support to Assad by restraining to call for him to step aside and Iranian state television described it as a conference of “friends” of Syria - a dig at the “Friends of Syria” group made up of Western and Arab nations who want see Assad leave.

Complicating Iran’s involvement in the issue is the fate of 48 of its nationals kidnapped near Damascus, who rebels say were there to fight for the regime. Iran claims that the men are pilgrims, but they booked their travel into Syria through an agency owned by the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Tehran has admitted that some were former military personnel. Contrary to earlier reports that three died in an airstrike, all the men are alive, a foreign ministry official said yesterday.