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Erdogan and Putin

Turkey demands independent investigation into chemical attack in Idlib

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on Thursday to support an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the chemical weapons attack in Syria last week, Turkish presidential sources said.

Published: April 16, 2017, 12:17 pm

    Ankara

    Shortly after the attack in Idlib, Turkey contacted the Russian and Iranian embassies in Ankara, reminding the ceasefire “two guarantor countries” of their responsibility to prevent repetition of similar violations, a Turkish spokesperson said.

    Reuters reported that Erdogan called the attack “a crime against humanity”.

    The April 4 attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, was blamed on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by Neocons. The deadly chemical attack occured in Idlib, the north-western Syrian province, which borders Turkey is controlled by extremist Al-Qaeda affiliates.

    Turkey should therefore be uniquely placed to call for an independent investigation into the chemical attack on April 4. Idlib is the only Syrian province remaining still under the control of extremist groups.

    Previously president Recep Erdogan rejected the need for an independent inquiry, insisting instead that: “We have the radar information and we have the forensic reports. Some say Syria does not have chemical weapons. Of course it does. It’s clear which planes dropped it.”

    In an article by Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books, Hersh suggested that Turkey was behind the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria in 2013.

    Hersh quoted a former intelligence official: “We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line. They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.”

    Erdogan stood to gain most from maintaining that the attack was launched by president Assad. His image as the most influential Sunni Islamist leader, also in Idlib which is a Sunni province, is crucial for the Turkish referendum on April 16, which would give his presidency expanded executive powers if he wins.

    As long as the discord between the US and Russia in Syria exists, Erdogan risks less with military operations in northern Syria and Turkish occupation of Syrian territory.

    The chemical attack would slow advances by Russia and Iran, and postpone their planned military offensive on Idlib to liberate the region from the al-Qaeda.

    Erdogan has repeatedly demanded “safe zones” inside Syria as well as “no-fly zones” – both of which would boost a permanent Turkish military presence his neighbouring country. Such zones would smash Kurdish ambitions to create an autonomous homeland, Rojava, inside northern Syria.

    Kurdish militias — which Erdogan describes as terrorists — have established autonomous statelets in two parts of northern Syria, with the implicit backing of Russia.

    Initially the Turkish President praised the strike on the Syrian airbase, but said he does not consider it to be sufficient. But the Syrian war has also spilled over into Turkey, where more Syrian refugees — around three million — have sought shelter than in any other country, AFP reported.

    On Sunday Turkish voters will decide whether to vastly expand the powers of the president, who has overseen the firing of some 130 000 civil servants and the arrest of about 45 000 after a failed coup last year.

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