Turkey summons Russia envoy over Syria border bombing

An image grab made from a video released by the Russian Defence Ministry on Oct 5, 2015 reportedly shows a Russian aircraft dropping bombs during an airstrike against Islamic State (IS) group's positions at an undisclosed location in Syria.
An image grab made from a video released by the Russian Defence Ministry on Oct 5, 2015 reportedly shows a Russian aircraft dropping bombs during an airstrike against Islamic State (IS) group's positions at an undisclosed location in Syria.PHOTO: AFP

Ankara (AFP) - Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador after Moscow's war planes bombed Syrian territory "very close" to the Turkish border, the foreign ministry said Friday, adding to tensions as the two sides seek to narrow their differences over the Syria conflict.

Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov was called in to hear Turkey's concern over Russia's bombing of "civilian Turkmen villages... very close to the border" with Turkey, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Turkey has asked Russia to "immediately end its operation," it added.

Ankara warned that bombing villages populated by the Turkmen minority in Syria could lead to "serious consequences," the ministry added.

Turkey also conveyed its "warning and demand" to Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov.

Turkish authorities have already summoned the Russian ambassador several times since Sept 30, when Russia started its hugely controversial air campaign in Syria.

Turkey protested that Russian aircraft violated Turkish air space and also warned Moscow against supplying arms and support for Syrian Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

The latest tensions come as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is set to visit Turkey on Wednesday, with the over four-year conflict that has torn Syria apart and left over a quarter of a million dead at the top of the agenda.

With momentum growing in long-stalled efforts to find a peace deal for Syria after the Paris attacks, the two sides will be seeking to narrow their differences on the conflict.

Ankara supports rebels opposing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad but Moscow has refused to abandon the Syrian leader. The Russian air campaign is widely seen as buttressing his regime.

Russia insists its air campaign is focused against IS jihadists but Turkey and its allies fear the Russian bombing is mainly hitting anti-Assad rebels.

Turkey sees the Turkmen minority in Syria as a natural ally in its struggle against Assad. Reports in recent days have suggested Ankara wants Turkmen forces to fight against IS jihadists on the ground as a branch of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

This would support a planned joint Turkey-US air campaign to clear IS jihadists from a swathe of the Turkey-Syria border, the reports added.

"The joint operation with the US on the Syria border won't be from the ground but from the air," Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet daily.

The operation would take place west of the Euphrates river between the towns of Jarablus and Azaz, he added. No details on the timing have been disclosed.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday told Moscow that "if civilians fleeing massacre and cluster bombs head to Turkey, and a new refugee influx emerges, everyone concerned will be held accountable." Turkey is already hosting 2.2 million refugees from the Syria conflict.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Putin on the margins of the G20 summit in the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya on Sunday and Monday.

Turkey argues that Assad, who Erdogan says has "massacred his own people", has no place in the future of Syria and cannot run as a candidate in future elections.