Turkey condemns actions of ‘terrorist’ Russia in Syria
Moscow denies hitting civilian targets, as Ankara vows to defend town of Azaz
Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu with his Ukrainian counterpart Arseniy Yatsenyuk prior their talks in Kiev on Monday. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
Turkey has accused Russia of behaving like a “terrorist organisation” and warned it to expect an “extremely decisive response” if it continued a bombing campaign in northern Syria that is allegedly targeting civilians and forcing thousands to flee.
On a visit to Ukraine, Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Russian war planes had bombed a school and a children’s hospital in the town of Azaz, a Syrian rebel stronghold near Turkey’s border, killing at least 14 people.
“If Russia continues behaving like a terrorist organisation and forcing civilians to flee, we will deliver an extremely decisive response,” he said. “Unfortunately, barbaric attacks on civilians are continuing in Syria and these attacks are being waged by both Russia and terrorist groups”.
“Russia and other terrorist organisations – first and foremost Islamic State in Syria – are responsible for numerous crimes against humanity,” he added.
Tension between Ankara and Moscow has soared since the Kremlin launched air strikes in Syria in late September to support government ground forces, and a Turkish jet shot down a Russian bomber over the Turkey-Syria border in November.
The Russian air campaign has helped the forces of Syria’s president Bashar al Assad make major gains against the country’s rebels, some of which have Turkish and US backing, and Syrian Kurdish forces have also advanced in areas close to Turkey.
Mr Davutoglu said on Monday that his country would not allow Kurdish forces to take Azaz, just 8km from the Turkish border, and for a third day Turkey’s army shelled positions of Kurdish fighters that Ankara regards as terrorists.
“We will not allow Azaz to fall,” Mr Davutoglu said, claiming that only Turkish artillery fire had prevented fighters from the Kurdish YPG group taking Azaz.
“If they approach again they will see the harshest reaction,” he said, while warning that Turkey would render the Menagh air base north of the city of Aleppo “unusable” unless the YPG, which seized it at the weekend, swiftly withdrew.
Mr Davutoglu also warned the YPG not to move east of the Afrin region or west of the Euphrates River, highlighting Ankara’s fear of how expanding Kurdish influence in Syria could embolden Kurdish groups inside Turkey.
Russian bombing has allowed Assad’s forces to move closer to the major northern Syrian city of Aleppo, while sending another wave of displaced people to the Turkish border, where they are now blocked.
The aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières said on Monday that Russian or Syrian government jets were responsible for a strike on a hospital in Idlib province, west of Aleppo, that left seven people dead and at least eight MSF staff missing.
Russia denied responsibility, and insists it is attacking only Islamic State and other terrorist groups.