Turkey accuses Russia of \'terrorism\' as Syria quagmire gets more complex

Friday 12/02/2016
Alarming developments complicate an already complex situation

KIEV - Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday accused Russia of acting as a "terrorist organisation" in Syria and vowed to deliver a robust response.

"If Russia continues behaving like a terrorist organisation and forcing civilians to flee, we will deliver an extremely decisive response," Davutoglu said through an official translator during a visit to Kiev.

"Unfortunately, barbaric attacks on civilians are continuing in Syria and these attacks are being waged by both Russia and terrorist groups," Davutoglu said.

"Russia and other terrorist organisations -- first and foremost, the Islamist State in Syria -- are responsible for numerous crimes against humanity," he added.

Tensions between Russia and Turkey have soared over Moscow's backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia's intense air campaign against what it claims are "terrorist" targets in its allied Middle Eastern state.

Turkey has long backed Assad's ouster and like other Western nations accuses Russia of predominantly bombing Syrian rebel groups backed by Washington and its allies instead of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Assad's forces have most recently used Russian air support to move ever closer to the rebel stronghold of Aleppo in northern Syria.

The resulting refugee flood toward Turkey has put renewed pressure on Ankara to open its border with Syria temporarily -- a move Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has until now been unwilling to take.

Davutoglu further slammed the Syrian peace talks that were halted after only a few days this month in Geneva as "diplomatic theatre" for which "the international community will ultimately bear responsibility".

Meanwhile, Turkish forces shelled Kurdish fighters in northern Syria for a third day on Monday but failed to stop their advance, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitor said Turkish troops were shelling the road to the west of the town of Tal Rifaat, which has been a key target of a Kurdish-Arab alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in Aleppo province.

The group said the shelling also targeted the region to the west of the Syrian border town of Azaz.

The alliance's advances have angered opposition-backer Turkey, which accuses the Kurdish forces of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

"Fighting has been ongoing since Sunday in the western part of Tal Rifaat between the SDF and rebels," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

"At least 26 rebels have been killed in the fighting" for the town in recent days, he added.

Tal Rifaat is a key remaining bastion of mostly Islamist rebel forces in Aleppo province, where the regime this month launched a major operation backed by Russian warplanes.

Simultaneously, the SDF forces have been advancing in the region, seizing the Minnigh air base from rebels, attacking Tal Rifaat and cutting the road leading from the town to Azaz on the Turkish border.

On Monday, SDF forces seized the village of Kfarnaya, two kilometres (1.2 miles) south of Tal Rifaat, the Observatory said.

The Kurdish advance is a complication for Washington, which has backed the SDF in its fight against the Islamic State group, but has also warned the alliance not to take advantage of the fluid situation in Aleppo by seizing new territory.