Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad a “terrorist” and said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with him, Reuters reported.
Syria’s foreign ministry fired back, accusing Erdogan of himself supporting terrorist groups fighting Assad in Syria’s civil war.
Erdogan has continuously been openly critical of Assad. He several times called on the Syrian president to resign and, in August of 2013, he said that the goal of any military intervention in Syria should be to topple Assad’s regime.
Turkey, however, has toned down its demands since it started working with Assad’s allies Russia and Iran on a political resolution.
“Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” Erdogan told a televised news conference with his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis, according to Reuters.
“It is impossible to continue with Assad. How can we embrace the future with a Syrian president who has killed close to a million of his citizens?” he said, in some of his harshest comments for weeks.
“We can’t say (Assad) will handle this. It is impossible for Turkey to accept this. Northern Syria has been handed over as a terror corridor. There is no peace in Syria and this peace won’t come with Assad,” Erdogan continued.
Syria’s state news agency SANA later quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Erdogan “continues to misdirect Turkish public opinion with his usual froth in an attempt to absolve himself of the crimes which he has committed against the Syrian people through advancing support to the various terrorist groups in Syria”.
Though Turkey has long demanded Assad’s removal, it is now more focused in Syria on the threat from Islamist militants and Kurdish fighters it considers allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who it says have formed a “terror corridor” on its southern border.
Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara views as an extension of the outlawed PKK which has fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since the 1980s, cannot be invited to Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Turkey's stance on the Kurds puts it at odds with the United States, which views the Kurds as key allies in its fight against the Islamic States (ISIS).