Turkey welcomes US Syria strike, urges no-fly zone

AFP , Friday 7 Apr 2017

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in the Black Sea city of Rize, Turkey, April 3, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey on Friday welcomed a US missile strike on a Syrian regime airbase in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack and called for a no-fly zone in the country to prevent further bloodshed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the strike against the Sharyat airbase in Homs, northern Syria, was "a positive response" to the "war crimes" of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"In order to prevent similar massacres from happening again, it is necessary to enforce a no-fly zone and create safe zones in Syria without further delay," he added in a statement.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said safe zones in Syria were "now important more than ever".

Kalin said: "The destruction of the Sharyat airbase marks an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished."

US President Donald Trump ordered the strike in retaliation for what he said was a "very barbaric attack" on Tuesday, when dozens were killed in Khan Sheikhun, northwestern Syria.

The Turkish health ministry on Thursday said initial analysis suggested victims were exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Cavusoglu said the coalition formed against the Islamic State group were informed about the US strike and that he had spoken to his French and German counterparts.

Kalin said the incident in Idlib demonstrated the regime's "complete disregard" for a political transition and efforts to enforce a ceasefire agreed late last year and sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Earlier, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Turkey believed that "the Assad regime must be punished completely in the international arena" in comments quoted by state-run news agency Anadolu.

"The Assad regime's barbarism must be stopped at once," Kurtulmus said, saying the peace process should hasten a "fair" and "lasting" peace for the people.

"I hope that this United States operation will contribute to securing peace."

Turkey has repeatedly called for Assad to go while Russia and Iran remain the president's most important allies in the more than six-year war.

"This regime should be ousted from leading Syria at once. The best way to do this is to start a transition process as soon as possible," said Cavusoglu.

"We need to establish a transition government."

There were protests outside the Russian and Iranian embassies in Ankara on Friday, with hundreds of demonstrators carrying 100 black coffins with images of children killed in Tuesday's attack in Idlib, an AFP photographer said.

The coffins had "murderer Assad" and "tyrant Putin" written on them.

In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said Ankara would give its "full support to steps taken to ensure that similar crimes do not go unpunished and (that there is) accountability".

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