Turkey said on Tuesday it wanted a ground operation in neighbouring Syria with its international allies, as a UN envoy held talks in Damascus aimed at saving a troubled ceasefire plan.
Tensions escalated over Russia’s air war in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, with Ankara branding it “vile, cruel and barbaric” and EU President Donald Tusk saying it “leaves little hope” of a solution.
Turkey sees the ouster of Assad as essential to ending a five-year conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, and is highly critical of Iran and Russia over their support for the Damascus regime.
“We want a ground operation with our international allies,” a senior Turkish official told reporters in Istanbul.
“There is not going to be a unilateral military operation from Turkey to Syria,” the official said, but added: “Without a ground operation it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria.”
Saudi Arabia, another fierce critic
of Assad, has said it is ready to send special forces to Syria to take part
in ground operations against the IS group. The United Nations said on Monday that nearly 50 civilians, including children, had died in the bombings of at least five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria.
The region around Syria’s second city of Aleppo has been the target of a major offensive by Syrian government troops, backed by Russian warplanes, which has sent tens of thousands fleeing to the Turkish border.
Russia denied it had bombed any hospital in Syria, calling such reports “unsubstantiated accusations”.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus on Tuesday to try to keep alive the proposal announced by world powers in Munich early Friday for a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria within a week.
“We have been particularly talking about the issue of humanitarian unhindered access to all besieged areas not only by the government but also by (the) opposition” and IS, De Mistura told reporters afterwards.
He said they would meet again later Tuesday “to address this urgent issue which is as you know related to the wellbeing of all Syrian people and is connected to the very clear discussions and conclusions of the Munich conference.”
Assad on Monday downplayed prospects of a halt in fighting, saying that it would be “difficult” to implement a truce.
“They are saying they want a ceasefire in a week. Who is capable of gathering all the conditions and requirements in a week? No one,” Assad said in televised remarks.
Turkey meanwhile shelled Kurdish positions in northern Syria for a fourth straight day on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
It said the shells had struck the town of Tal Rifaat which was captured on Monday from mostly extremist rebels by a Kurdish-Arab coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Turkish media also reported shelling on Kurdish positions around the rebel stronghold of Azaz.