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Turkey and Saudi Arabia 'may send ground troops into Syria'

Published 13/02/2016

Mevlut Cavusoglu was speaking after taking part in a security conference in Munich (AP)
Mevlut Cavusoglu was speaking after taking part in a security conference in Munich (AP)

Turkey and Saudi Arabia could launch ground operations against Islamic State in Syria, according to the Turkish foreign minister.

After taking part in a security conference in Munich, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saudi Arabia was "ready to send both jets and troops" to Turkey's Incirlik air base.

"Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch an operation (against IS) from the land," Saturday's edition of the Yeni Safak pro-government newspaper quoted him as saying.

Mr Cavusoglu did not specify the number of troops or jets or the timing of a possible deployment, but said exploratory visits had been made.

The base is used by the US-led coalition in the campaign against IS.

Turkish television channels NTV and CNN Turk carried remarks by the minister suggesting that Turkey and Saudi Arabia see eye-to-eye on the need for ground operations in Syria.

Syrian state TV and an opposition activist group said later that government forces had captured another village near Aleppo, tightening the noose around rebel-held parts of the northern city.

State TV and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops captured Tamoura on Saturday.

Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV said troops are overlooking the town of Hayan and parts of the town of Anadan. The Lebanese militant group is fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Government troops have been advancing under cover of intense Russian air strikes with the aim of besieging rebel-held parts of Syria's largest city.

The US and Russia have announced a plan to halt the violence within a week, but it is unclear whether fighters on the ground will adhere to it.

Russia's foreign minister sounded a pessimistic note on chances of securing a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria within a week as planned, putting the chances at less than 50%.

Appearing at a security conference in Munich a day after diplomats secured a deal to work towards the temporary truce and to speed deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged Syrians, Sergey Lavrov said Russia remains deeply suspicious of US intentions.

He said everyday military co-operation between the US and Russia is "the key tool" to ensuring the delivery of humanitarian supplies and an end to hostilities in Syria, but he said co-ordination has not gone beyond an agreement to avoid in-air incidents.

"If we are moving closer to practical goals of (a) truce, then without co-operation between the military nothing will work out," Mr Lavrov said.

Pressed by conference moderator Wolfgang Ischinger to say how confident he is that a "cessation of hostilities" will be implemented within a week, Mr Lavrov replied, 49 out of 100.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, sitting alongside Mr Lavrov, said the Russian's comments made the chances sound more like "somewhere close to zero".

Mr Cavusoglu said: "At every coalition meeting we have always emphasised the need for an extensive, result-oriented strategy in the fight against the (Islamic State) terrorist group.

"If we have such a strategy, then Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch an operation from the land."

Turkey hosts more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees and tens of thousands more have massed at its borders after a fierce government offensive in Aleppo.

More than 250,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011.

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