Syrian, Russian forces carrying out ethnic cleansing around Aleppo: Turkish PM

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Syrian government forces backed by Russia are carrying out a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.

At a news briefing in The Hague with his Dutch counterpart, Davutoglu said 60,000 migrants had fled the violence to the Turkish border and that, while Turkey would not close its doors, the priority was providing aid to them inside Syria.

“One of the aims of the latest attacks is to conduct ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing in Syria and Aleppo aimed at only leaving regime supporters behind is being conducted by the Syrian regime and Russia in a very deliberate way,” he said.

“Every refugee that we accept helps their ethnic cleansing policy, but we will continue to accept (refugees).”

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, have launched a major offensive in the countryside around Aleppo.

The United Nations warned on Tuesday hundreds of thousands of civilians could be cut off from food if rebel-held parts of the city are encircled. Both the U.N. and the European Union have urged Turkey to open its border.

Davutoglu said it was hypocritical of those who had failed to stop Russian air strikes in Syria to now ask Turkey to keep its border open, pointing out that it had taken in more than 2.6 million refugees during the five-year war.

The border at Oncupinar, where tens of thousands fleeing the Aleppo assault have massed, remains closed to all but the seriously wounded and aid trucks and ambulances, with Turkish relief organisations delivering supplies to the Syrian side.

Davutoglu also accused the Syrian Kurdish PYD of attacking civilians in collaboration with Russian forces, and said it was guilty of war crimes.

The United States sees the PYD as a useful ally in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, but Ankara views it as a terrorist group with deep ideological and logistical links to Kurdish militants fighting in its own southeast.

Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by David Dolan