Turkey is not providing shelter or backing to al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria and will continue to exclude them from its broader support for the Syrian opposition, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Turkey has long championed more robust backing for Syria's fractious armed opposition, but the rise of al-Qaida-linked groups among their ranks has left it open to accusations that it is lending support to radical Islamists.
“It is out of the question that groups like al Nusra and al-Qaida can take shelter in our country,” Erdogan told a news conference in Stockholm during an official visit.
“On the contrary, any such structures would be subject to the same fight we carry out against separatist terrorist groups. We have taken the necessary steps against them and we will continue to do so,” he said.
Al-Qaida-linked groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have captured territory in parts of northern Syria near the border in recent months.
Turkey has maintained an open-door policy throughout the two-and-a-half-year conflict, providing a lifeline to rebel-held areas by allowing humanitarian aid in, giving refugees a route out and letting the rebel Free Syrian Army organize on its soil.
“Who we recognize among the Syrian rebels is a known fact. We are in contact with the Free Syrian Army... and we are also in touch with the [opposition] Syrian National Coalition,” Erdogan said.
“We provide all of our support and aid through these.”