Turkey denies suspending Syria air strikes after Russia crisis

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for unity against ISIS on Nov 27, 2015.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for unity against ISIS on Nov 27, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkey denied on Friday (Nov 27) it had suspended air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria after the downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.  

Turkish F-16 jets on Tuesday shot down a Russian warplane which Ankara said had breached its air space. The Hurriyet newspaper said Turkey, a member of a US-led coalition fighting ISIS, had “temporarily” halted air raids against the group in Syria in order to avoid any further crises.

“Both sides agreed to act cautiously until they re-establish dialogue channels to reduce tensions,” the paper said, citing security sources.  But a government official denied that strikes had been halted.

“At this time, Turkey remains fully committed to fighting ISIS as part of the international coalition,” he told AFP.  “Our policy remains unchanged and the claims, therefore, are inaccurate.  

“Turkey’s participation in coalition air strikes is determined by ourselves and our allies alone depending on mutual assessments of military developments on the ground and logistical needs.”

The Hurriyet report came as Turkish leaders sought to soothe the tension with Moscow. Russia said on Friday that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had requested a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Paris on Nov 30, even as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for unity against ISIS.

The Kremlin said Erdogan had proposed a meeting with Putin in Paris on the sidelines of the global climate summit that begins on Nov 30. 

“A proposal from the Turkish side about a meeting at the level of heads of state has been delivered to the president,”Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on a conference call on Friday. “That’s all I can say.” 

Peskov also said that Erdogan had telephoned Putin seven or eight hours after Turkey shot down the Russian warplane on Tuesday. “This request was also delivered to the president,” Peskov said. 

The downing of the plane on the Syrian border has raised fears it could fuel a wider geopolitical conflict, and highlighted the difficulty of forging consensus on Syria.

Turkish PM Davutoglu on Friday urged the international community to unite against a "common enemy".

"While the measures to defend our territory will remain in place, Turkey will work with Russia and our allies to calm tensions," Davutoglu wrote in Friday's edition of The Times in London.

"The downing of an unidentified jet in Turkish airspace was not - and is not - an act against a specific country," he said.

"The international community must not turn on itself. Otherwise the only victors will be Daesh... and the Syrian regime," he said, using an Arabic term for ISIS.

"The focus should be to tackle, head-on, the international threat that Daesh poses, securing the future of Syria and seeking a solution to the current refugee crisis," he said.