Syria's Assad calls Turkey's Erdogan a 'thief' for stealing land, Latest World News - The New Paper

Syria's Assad calls Turkey's Erdogan a 'thief' for stealing land

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BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday denounced Turkey's leader as a thief for attacking the north-east of his country and reiterated a pledge to retake all areas lost to Damascus in years of civil war, state media reported.

Mr Assad made the remarks as he made a rare visit to a frontline of Syria's conflict, touring an area in war-torn north-western Idlib province close to the last major bastion of Turkey-backed rebel forces.

He was seen surrounded by army commanders and soldiers in the town of Hobeit, which the army took in August as part of a Russian-led offensive to capture Idlib and its surroundings.

"Erdogan is a thief and is now stealing our land," state media quoted Mr Assad as saying, referring to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey this month began an assault against its Syrian Kurdish militia enemies in Syria's northeast with the help of rebel forces who control swathes of territory north of Idlib.

With the war in its eighth year, capturing Idlib would be a vital victory for Mr Assad, who has steadily recovered control of rebellious areas with Russian and Iranian support.

"We said and continue to say that the Idlib battle is the core to decisively end chaos and terrorism in all of Syria," Mr Assad was quoted as saying.

Idlib enjoyed a lull in air strikes after Damascus and its ally Moscow declared a ceasefire on Aug 31 following five months of bombing, which the United Nations says killed hundreds of people.

Just before the ceasefire, the offensive, aided by Iranian backed militias, made its most significant advance by seizing the city of Khan Sheikhoun. The campaign also expanded state control of parts of a highway that stretches from the capital Damascus to the city of Aleppo.

Turkey and Russia had brokered a de-escalation zone deal in 2017 to curb fighting in Idlib.

It does not cover militants who are the dominant force in the area.

Many of the 500,000 people uprooted by the fighting in the northwest have fled towards the Turkish border. - REUTERS