Last updated: 4 July, 2012

Assad accuses Turkey of helping Syrian ‘terrorists’

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad accused Turkey in an interview published Wednesday of giving logistical backing to Syrian “terrorists” and told Ankara to stop meddling in his country’s affairs.

“Turkey’s desire to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs has put it in a position which unfortunately makes it a party to all the bloody activities” in Syria, he told the daily Cumhuriyet in an interview published Wednesday, the first part of which it published a day ago.

“Turkey has supplied all logistic support to the terrorists who have killed our people,” said Assad, who has been waging a bloody crackdown since a popular uprising broke out in March last year.

More than 16,500 people, mostly civilians have been killed in the violence and Turkey, once a strong ally in the region, has severed ties with Damascus and welcomed to its territory more than 35,000 Syrian refugees.

The uprising has increasingly turned into an armed conflict between the army and dissident soldiers who have notably joined the Free Syrian Army.

That force is being commanded from Turkey by colonel Riad Al-Assaad, who fled there with a large number of deserters.

Turkey has repeatedly denied that it allows attacks in Syria to be launched from its territory and insists it is not giving any support to the Free Syrian Army as alleged by Syria and reports in the foreign media.

The Syrian president further accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of being motivated by “sectarian instincts.”

Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria, is majority Sunni Muslim, like most Syrians, while the government in Damascus, the army and the ruling party are chiefly members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

In the first part of the interview with Cumhuriyet, Assad said he regretted that his country’s defence forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet on June 22, but still insisted the plane was in Syrian airspace.

“I would have wished 100 percent that we had not attacked it,” he said two weeks after the F-4 Phantom jet on a training mission was shot at and crashed into the Mediterranean off Syria.

But he said the plane was flying at low altitude and in an air corridor used in the past by the Israeli planes to attack Syria.

He also insisted the plane was in Syrian airspace, and not international airspace as maintained by Ankara.