ANKARA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Turkey could act against a “terrorist” organization in northern Syria if it sees it as a threat, in a warning to Kurdish militants believed to be active in the region.
Erdogan’s warning of possible intervention marked a new escalation in tensions between Turkey and its southern neighbor, which have been increasingly at odds since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to heed Ankara’s calls to quit.
“We will not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey,” Erdogan told a news conference before travelling to London.
“If there is a step which needs to be taken against the terrorist group, we will definitely take this step,” he said.
Turkey has in recent years carried out regular attacks against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in the mountains of northern Iraq. Recent reports say a PKK-linked group is now in control of towns in northern Syria near the Turkish border.
Erdogan first warned of possible intervention against Kurdish militants in northern Syria on Wednesday evening.
“If there are formations that are being set up right now that lead to a terrorist act, then naturally we have the right to intervene,” he said in a interview with Kanal 24.
Turkey has harbored Syrian rebels and tens of thousands of refugees along its border with Syria. Hostility between the two countries flared up last month when a Turkish jet was shot down by Syrian air defenses.
Ankara subsequently increased its military presence, sending anti-aircraft missiles to the border and scrambling planes when Syrian aircraft came close to Turkish territory.
Erdogan said on Thursday Assad and those close to him were about to leave power and preparations were under way for a “new era” in Turkey’s southern neighbor.
Reporting by Ozge Ozbilgin; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Daren Butler; Editing by Diana Abdallah