ISTANBUL, Turkey — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Turkey was not looking to seize any Syrian territory despite stepping up its attacks against Kurdish forces in the war-torn country’s north.
Erdogan’s comments came days after a Turkish air strikes on a Syrian border post run by regime forces reportedly killed 17 fighters.
A war monitor said that both Kurds who man some of the Syrian border posts and regime forces were killed in the Turkish raids.
The official Syrian news agency said three government soldiers died.
Turkey said it was responding to a strike on its own positions along the border that killed two soldiers.
The exchange of fire marked one of the largest escalations since Ankara and Damascus traded attacks in 2020.
Erdogan appeared to try and calm the tensions in comments to reporters on board his return flight from his first wartime visit to Ukraine.
“We do not have eyes on the territory of Syria because the people of Syria are our brothers,” Turkish media quoted Erdogan as saying.
“The regime must be aware of this.”
Erdogan’s visit to Ukraine came two weeks after he flew to Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that also covered Syria.
Putin’s support was instrumental in helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad survive an 11-year conflict against rebel groups backed in part by Turkey.
Erdogan said he told Putin that he wanted to cooperate more closely with Russia in northern Syrian regions where Ankara has been targeting Kurds it views as “terrorists”.
“We are in contact with Russia on every step that we take in Syria,” Erdogan said.
– Reproachment with Assad? –
The border clash came with fears mounting that Turkey may be preparing to launch its fourth cross-border offensive against Kurdish forces since 2016.
Erdogan accuses the Kurdish fighters in Syria — allied with the United States against Islamic State jihadists — as outlawed militants with links to groups waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
He repeated his catchphrase on Friday that Turkish forces could strike Syrian Kurds “suddenly one night”.
But he also hinted that Turkey may be open to a possible reproachment with Assad after fiercely opposing his regime.
“There should be no resentment in politics,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
He pointed out that Turkey had made up with its one-time rivals Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in the past few years.
“We need to secure further steps with Syria,” he said without fully explaining what those might involve.
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu sparked protests in northern Syrian regions under Ankara’s control last week by calling for a “reconciliation” between rebel groups it backs and Assad.
He also revealed last year holding his first brief meeting with a Syrian foreign minister since 2011.
“You should always be at peace,” Erdogan said on Friday. “You should have the opportunity to meet at any time.”