ISTANBUL — Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Saturday his country is willing to accept a role for Syrian President Bashar Assad during a transitional period, but insisted he has no place in Syria’s future.
Speaking to foreign media representatives in Istanbul, the prime minister also said that Turkey would aim to become more of a regional player with regard to Syria in the next six months.
Turkey is one of the main supporters of rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, and hosts more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees.
“Could Syria carry Assad in the long-term? Certainly not,” Yildirim said. “The United States knows and Russia knows that Assad does not appear to be someone who can bring [the people] together.”
“We may sit and talk [with him] for the transition. A transition may be facilitated. But we believe that there should be no [Kurdish rebels], Daesh or Assad in Syria’s future,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
Turkey, which is battling a Kurdish insurgency, is concerned about the growing power of Syrian Kurdish forces across the border and opposed to any moves toward Kurdish autonomy or independence.
“In the six months ahead of us, we shall be playing a more active role,” Yildirim said. “It means not allowing Syria to be divided along ethnic lines… ensuring that its government is not based on ethnic [divisions].”
More than 300 civilians have been killed in a three-week surge of fighting and bombardment in Syria’s devastated Aleppo city, a monitoring group said Saturday.
The battle for Syria’s second city has killed 333 civilians since July 31, when rebels launched a major push to break a government siege of districts under their control.
The toll includes 165 civilians — among them 49 children — killed in opposition fire on the city’s government-held western districts.
Another 168 civilians died in Russian and regime air strikes and shelling on its rebel-controlled eastern neighbourhoods, the Observatory said.
Russia has been carrying out air raids in support of Assad’s forces in Syria since September 2015.
Another 109 people were killed in bombardment across the rest of Aleppo province during the same period, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Once Syria’s economic hub, Aleppo city has been ripped apart by violence since mid-2012, with warplanes bombarding the east and rockets raining down on the west.
More than 290,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict started in March 2011, and international efforts at putting an end to the war have faltered.