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February 23, 2015

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Turkey upsets Syria with rescue mission

Turkish soldiers launched an overnight mission into neighboring Syria, evacuating dozens of besieged troops guarding an Ottoman tomb and moving the crypt yesterday back to Turkey after ceremonially planting the country’s crescent-and-star flag.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Turkish operation, calling it a “flagrant aggression.”

The mission, saving Turkish soldiers reportedly stuck for months at the tomb of the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, saw hundreds of troops backed by tanks cross the border near the frontier town of Kobani once besieged by the Islamic State group.

Turkey was widely criticized for not intervening for months in the Kobani battle, which finally saw Kurdish fighters backed by US-led airstrikes push out the extremists. “We had given the Turkish armed forces a directive to protect our spiritual values and the safety of our armed forces personnel,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in televised remarks.

Nearly 600 Turkish soldiers on some 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers crossed into Syria on Saturday night, as drones and airplanes flew reconnaissance missions overhead, Davutoglu said yesterday.

One group traveled to the tomb, some 35 kilometers from Turkey on the banks of the Euphrates River in Syria’s embattled Aleppo Province, he said. Another group seized an area only 200 meters from the Turkish border in Syria’s Ashma region to be the new home for the tomb, according to a statement from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office.

One soldier was killed in an “accident” during the operation, Turkey’s military said, without elaborating.

Turkish media later showed nationalistic images of three Turkish soldiers raising the country’s flag at the new site. “Before the Turkish flag was lowered at (the tomb), the Turkish flag started to be waved at another location in Syria,” Davutoglu said. He said troops destroyed the complex once housing the tomb.


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