Turkey enters Syria to evacuate tomb

تم نشره في Sun 22 February / Feb 2015. 02:26 PM
  • The Turkish flag was raised over a new site earmarked to house the remains

Hundreds of Turkish troops in armoured vehicles have entered into northern Syria and evacuated a historic Ottoman tomb and the soldiers guarding it.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the remains of Suleyman Shah would be moved elsewhere in Syria.

He said troops had destroyed the tomb's complex, apparently to prevent it from being used by Islamic State (IS) militants.

Turkey considers the shrine be to sovereign territory.

Suleyman Shah, who lived from around 1178 to 1236, was grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman empire, Osman I.

Selin Girit, BBC News, on Turkish border with Syria

The tomb of Suleiman Shah was the one and only Turkish enclave abroad, in accordance with a treaty signed in 1921. This was the burial site of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the Ottoman Empire's founder Osman I - which meant it had historical significance too.

Turkey was concerned with the rising Islamic State threat in the area. In March 2014, IS threatened to attack the site unless Turkish troops guarding the tomb were withdrawn in three days; but such an attack did not take place. If the tomb had in fact come under attack, that would have provoked serious reaction from Turkey.

In August 2012, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - then PM - had warned that an act against the tomb would be considered "an attack on our territory, as well an attack on Nato land". Last year, the Turkish parliament authorized the use of force against IS militants. Commentators in Turkish media say the fact that the tomb is now moved and soldiers are evacuated is a relief for Turkey.

"We had given the Turkish armed forces a directive to protect our spiritual values and the safety of our armed forces personnel," Mr Davutoglu said in televised remarks.

Earlier, in a series of tweets (in Turkish), Mr Davutoglu hailed the armed forces for carrying out a "highly successful" operation amid the "inherent risks" of conflict in Syria.

He said the remains had been moved to Turkey but would soon be rehoused in an area of Syria under Turkish military control, closer to the Turkish border.

The Turkish flag had already been raised over the site, the PM said.

There were no clashes with IS during the operation, but one soldier died in an accident, he added.

The operation began on Saturday at about 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT) and ended on Sunday morning.

A large convoy, including 600 troops and about 100 tanks and armoured vehicles, passed through Kobane - the city which Syrian Kurdish fighters retook last month from IS - and travelled some 35km (20 miles) south to the tomb on the banks of the Euphrates river.

Suleyman Shah is believed to have drowned in the river.

The tomb has been permanently guarded by a contingent of about 40 soldiers, who rotate periodically.

The site is part of Turkish territory, according to a treaty signed in 1921 (in French) that gave Turkey the right to station guards and fly its flag there.

When the treaty was signed the tomb and legal enclave were some 80km south of their current location, but were moved after the original site was flooded by the creation of the reservoir Lake Assad in 1974.

The Turkish convoy was believed to be larger and more heavily armed than usual because of recent heavy fighting between the Kurdish militia and Syrian rebel groups against IS militants.

Since driving IS out of Kobane in January, the Kurdish Popular Protection Units and rebels have taken a number of surrounding villages.

They are now said to be only 25km from Tal Abyad - the strategically important border town east of Kobane that is used by IS militants to cross into Turkey.

IS has seized larges swathes in Syria and Iraq, proclaiming a caliphate.

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