PM: Turkey does not supply arms to Syrian opposition

January 31, 2013, Thursday/ 16:34:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that Turkey did not supply arms to the Syrian opposition fighting against Bashar al-Assad's forces, during a press conference on Wednesday.

In response to a question asked during a joint press briefing with his Lebanese counterpart, Najib Mikati, about claims of Turkey's provision of arms to the Syrian opposition, Erdoğan said: “We have been providing the Syrian people with food, clothing, and medicine, and we will continue to do so. Other types of aid [arms] do not originate from Turkey.”

The Turkish prime minister reiterated that Turkey did not have any problems with the Syrian people, but with the Assad regime. Erdoğan recalled other countries which also agreed that the Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy to govern Syria, adding that the Syrian National Council (SNC) was recognized by some 130 countries as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people” at a meeting in Marrakesh last December.

Commenting on the question regarding arms from Turkey to the Syrian opposition, Erdoğan said: “I would expect my Lebanese brothers to ask me the question ‘Who is helping the Syrian regime?' as Lebanon also suffered from the atrocities of the Syrian regime in the past. Turkey asked Assad's regime to withdraw it troops from Lebanon and they did so. Turkey played a role in this issue [putting an end to the Syrian presence in Lebanon].”

Stating that the crisis in Syria was discussed in detail during the talks, Erdoğan said the fact that both Turkey and Lebanon share borders with war-torn Syria make the two countries different from others (in terms of security). “The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon are of great importance; I want to stress that Turkey will support Lebanon so as to strengthen the stability and peace in that country. Our region is going through a sensitive period,” Erdoğan added. He went on to say that Turkey agreed with the approach of the Lebanese government on the regional issues and the Syrian crisis.

Regarding the issue of a group of Lebanese hostages in Syria, Erdoğan noted that Turkey was continuing its efforts to secure their release and unite them with their families. “We will obtain good results on this issue sooner or later,” Erdoğan added.

Eleven Lebanese men were abducted in May in northern Syria while returning from a pilgrimage to Iran. Two of them were later released, reportedly thanks to Turkish efforts. The Lebanese pilgrims are believed to be held by Syrian opposition groups.

Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati, accompanied by some of his ministers, was in Ankara on Wednesday on a one-day visit to discuss issues related to the Syrian crisis, including the release of the Lebanese hostages in Syria.

Commenting on the release of the Lebanese kidnapped by Syrian anti-regime forces, Mikati said: “I believe Turkey has the power to use leverage on the anti-regime group [that has been holding Lebanese people as captives] to release the hostages. They will be set free if pressed.” Mikati further added that Lebanon was ready to provide Turkey with all kinds of help in the international arena. Mikati also said his delegation had talks with Turkish officials in an amicable atmosphere, adding that they agreed on taking further steps to enhance the cooperation between the two countries.

“The bilateral trade volume between the two countries has quintupled, rising to $1 billion from $219 million, since we came to power in 2002. Trade continued to grow in 2012 as well despite the political and social unrest in the region,” said Erdoğan, highlighting the cooperation between Turkey and Lebanon.

Following the press conference, Erdoğan hosted a dinner in honor of his Lebanese counterpart at his official residence.

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