Turkish Military Evacuates Soldiers Guarding Tomb in Syria

استنبول: أعلن رئيس الوزراء التركي في مؤتمر صحفي بثه التلفزيون يوم الأحد بأن الجيش التركي قد أرسل قوات مدرعة إلى داخل الأراضي السورية يوم السبت في مهمة إنقاذ واسترداد رفات شخصية تاريخية كبرى وإجلاء الحراس في قبره المحاصر.

قبر سليمان شاه وهو جد مؤسس الإمبراطورية العثمانية ويقع على بعد 20 ميلا إلى الجنوب من الحدود التركية ولكن اعتبر مكانه من الأراضي التركية بموجب معاهدة 1921 مع فرنسا التي حكمت سوريا في ذلك الوقت.

وسيطر مقاتلين من جماعة الدولة الإسلامية على هذه المنطقة واحتجزوا عدد من الجنود الأتراك لعدة أشهر إلا أنهم لم يعتدوا على الضريح.

ISTANBUL — The Turkish Army sent armored troops deep into Syria late Saturday on a rescue mission, to recover the remains of a major historical figure and to evacuate the guards at his besieged tomb, the prime minister announced in a televised news conference on Sunday.

The tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, is 20 miles south of the Turkish border, but it has been considered Turkish territory under a 1921 treaty with France, which ruled Syria at that time. Fighters from the Islamic State extremist group have controlled the surrounding area and have kept the Turkish soldiers there trapped for months, although they did not assault the tomb.

The prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said there were no clashes during the mission and only one casualty, a soldier who was killed in an accident.

He said Turkey notified the Syrian government, rebel leaders and the coalition forces fighting the Islamic State about the operation. It appeared to be Turkey’s first significant ground incursion into Syria since the civil war there began almost four years ago.

The Tomb of Suleyman Shah in 2011. Credit Associated Press

Mr. Davutoglu said 572 troops, 39 tanks, 57 armored vehicles and 100 other vehicles were involved, and that the column reached the tomb shortly after midnight.

“A religious ceremony was held for the transfer of the tomb remains while other items of cultural significance were removed with similar care,” he said. “Our troops were safely removed from the area.” Finally, he said, the Turkish flag was lowered, and the tomb and security station were destroyed to prevent any possible use by extremists.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the operation was prompted by the chaos and instability in Syria. The Turkish news channel NTV reported that the government had received warnings in recent days that clashes were likely to erupt nearby between forces of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and Kurdish troops known as pesh merga, and that the tomb could become a target.

“The Suleyman Shah tomb has been a point of vulnerability for Turkey for a long time, and with this operation, such weakness has been eliminated,” said Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. “The Islamic State could have used the presence of the tomb as leverage in case of any confrontation with Turkey.”

Mr. Davutoglu said that, in accordance with the 1921 treaty, a new tomb for Suleyman Shah was being established in a part of Syria that is under Kurdish control, the Ashme district in the Rojava region. Turkish television showed images on Sunday of the Turkish flag being raised there.

Suleyman Shah, who died in 1236, is believed to have drowned in the Euphrates River, which flows south from Turkey through Syria and into Iraq. His tomb by the banks of the river has been relocated several times before, most recently in the 1970s to avoid being submerged by the reservoir of a new dam. Mr. Davutoglu said that when conditions in Syria permitted, the tomb would be moved back again to the site that was evacuated, near the village of Karakozak.

Tensions have mounted around the tomb since March, when the Islamic State took control of the surrounding area and began threatening to destroy the tomb unless guards there lowered the Turkish flag.

The militant group raided Turkey’s consulate in Mosul, Iraq, last June and seized 46 Turks and 3 Iraqis as hostages; they were released three months later on terms that were not disclosed. That crisis discouraged Turkey from joining the United States-led military coalition conducting strikes against the Islamic State, though Turkey has cooperated with the United States in other ways, including an agreement signed on Friday to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels on Turkish soil.

Turkey has lobbied intensively for international military action in Syria, including no-fly zones and a presence on the ground to strengthen the more moderate Syrian rebel groups who are fighting both the extremists and the Syrian government. Turkey is also concerned about containing the flow of refugees from Syria, more than three million of whom have already been sheltered in Turkey.

The Syrian government issued a statement on Sunday calling the military operation a “flagrant aggression” because Turkey did not wait for permission from Damascus to mount it. The Syrian government said the mission’s success showed that the Islamic extremists were Turkey’s “puppets.”

The armored rescue column entered Syrian territory through Kobani, the border town that was recently cleared of extremists by Kurdish forces after a long siege. The Kurds were aided by airstrikes and other support from the American-led coalition.

Mr. Ulgen, the analyst, said the choice of route was a sign of some improvement in relations between the Turkish government in Ankara and the Syrian Kurds, whom the Turks have regarded with deep suspicion. Turkey has opposed Western military assistance to the pesh merga, arguing that they were an extension of outlawed separatist groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., that are fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

“The coordination prior to Saturday’s military operation displays some agreement with the Syrian Kurdish groups,” Mr. Ulgen said. “This cooperation, however, should not be regarded as a game-changer in Ankara’s approach.”

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