Turkey condemns Israeli air strikes in Syria
Kerry and Putin discuss ongoing rebellion againt Assad during Moscow meeting
A cloud rises from an explosion near the Syrian village of Al’ Rafide at the border with Israel in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Turkey today criticised Israel for launching air strikes on targets near the Lebanon/Syria border. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.
Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan today condemned Israeli air strikes on targets near Damascus, saying they were an opportunity for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government to cover up its own killings.
“The air strike Israel carried out on Damascus is completely unacceptable. There is no rationale, no pretext that can excuse this operation,” Mr Erdogan told a parliamentary meeting of his ruling party.
“These attacks are chances, opportunities offered on a golden tray to Assad and to the illegitimate Syrian regime. Using the Israel attack as an excuse, he is trying to cover up the genocide in Banias,” he said.
Mr Erdogan was referring to a Syrian coastal town where anti-Assad activists said at least 62 people were killed by government fighters over the weekend.
Israeli officials said the air strikes on Friday and Sunday were not intended to influence its neighbour’s civil war but only at stopping Iranian missiles reaching Lebanese Hizbullah militants for possible use against the Jewish state.
Residents and opposition sources said the Israeli warplanes struck elite Syrian troops in the valley of the Barada River that flows through Damascus and on Qasioun Mountain overlooking the capital. They said targets included air defences, Republican Guards and a compound linked to chemical weapons.
US secretary of state John Kerry today said the US and Russia, a backer of Dr Assad, share “very significant interests” in Syria and should redouble efforts to bolster regional stability in the Middle East.
Speaking today at a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, Mr Kerry said he wants to “dig in” and “find common ground” on Syria. The two nations are engaged in important cooperation on “acute questions” as they work together to find solutions, Mr Putin said.
Separately, Syrian rebels today said they were holding a group of Filipino UN peacekeepers on the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after clashes in the area had put them in danger.
At the United Nations, a spokeswoman said four peacekeepers had been detained as they patrolled close to an area where 21 Filipino observers were detained for three days in March.
Spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said they were taken at Position 86, near the southern end of the narrow “area of separation” between Syrian and Israeli forces.
The Yarmouk Martyrs rebels said they “carried out an operation to secure and protect elements of the United Nations operating in the Yarmouk Valley ... during clashes and heavy shelling in the region”. They said the heavy presence of Dr Assad’s forces posed a danger to the peacekeepers, as well as “criminal elements” in the area.