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Turkey denies sending Syrian fighters to help ally Azerbaijan

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's European Union Affairs Minister Omer Celik speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Turkish Embassy in London, Britain, September, 14, 2017. REUTERS/Will Russell

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey on Tuesday denied reports that it sent Syrian fighters to help its ally Azerbaijan fight Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, saying the assertions were part of Armenia’s attempts to create “dark propaganda” about Turkey.

On Monday, the Armenian ambassador to Russia said Turkey had sent around 4,000 fighters from Turkish-controlled northern Syria to Azerbaijan and that they were involved in hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Two Syrian combatants also told Reuters that Ankara was sending fighters from Turkish-allied rebel groups in northern Syria to support Azerbaijan.

Dozens have been reported killed and hundreds wounded since clashes between Azeri and Armenian forces broke out on Sunday in the worst regional fighting since the 1990s. On Tuesday, Armenia accused Turkey of downing an Armenian warplane, which Ankara and Baku both denied.

A spokesman for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party denied both reports.

“The claim that Turkey downed a warplane is not true, this is a lie. As is the claim that Turkey sent jihadists there. Both are lies,” Omer Celik told a news conference in Ankara.

He added that Yerevan was making the statements “to cover up their own hostility, and to try to create an umbrella of dark propaganda over Turkey.”

Turkey has pledged full support for ethnic Turkic Azerbaijan and accused Armenia of occupying Azeri lands in Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians with support from Yerevan.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that Turkey stood with Azerbaijan “at the table and on the ground”.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Heinrich