February 24, 2016 / 12:23 PM / in 3 years

Turkey's Erdogan says Syria ceasefire could benefit Assad

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the West, Russia and Iran of all seeking to further their own interests in Syria and said on Wednesday he feared a U.S.-Russian ceasefire plan would do little more than benefit President Bashar al-Assad.

NATO member Turkey has grown increasingly frustrated by the international response to Syria’s five-year-old war, incensed by a Russian intervention which has tipped the balance of power in favour of Ankara’s arch-enemy Assad and by U.S. support for a Kurdish militia it sees as a hostile insurgent force.

“The West, the United States, Russia, Iran, the European Union and United Nations have unfortunately not managed to stand tall by the honor of humanity,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara broadcast live on television.

“On the contrary, all these countries, because of their own calculations, have permitted, directly or indirectly, the killing of nearly half a million innocent people by the regime and its backers,” he said.

The United States and Russia announced plans on Monday for a cessation of hostilities in Syria to take effect starting on Saturday. But rebels backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey expressed doubts about the proposal, which excludes attacks by the Syrian army and its Russian backers on the jihadist groups Islamic State and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

Rebels fear Russia will use that as a pretext to bomb them.

“If this is a ceasefire that is up to the mercy of Russia, which has brutally attacked the moderate opposition and aligned with Assad under the pretext of fighting Islamic State, we fear that the fire pouring over the innocent people will never stop,” Erdogan said.

Syria’s opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which groups Assad’s political and armed opponents, said on Monday it accepted “international efforts for a cessation of hostilities”, but only on the condition that previous demands including an end to blockades and the bombardment of civilians were fulfilled.

Erdogan described as a “great lie” the notion that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which is seen as a hostile insurgent force by Ankara but has enjoyed U.S. backing, was being given support because it was fighting Islamic State.

Turkey views the YPG as a hostile insurgent force with deep links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast. Erdogan has called on Washington to decide who its allies are - Turkey or the Kurdish militia.

Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley and David Dolan in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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