Beirut: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of not having said “a single word of truth” about Syria’s conflict, in an interview with Turkish media posted on the web.
“Erdogan has not said a single word of truth since the beginning of the crisis in Syria,” Al Assad told journalists working for Turkish television Ulusal and Aydinlik newspaper.
Turkey is a key backer of the Syrian revolt that broke out in March 2011.
Damascus has regularly accused Ankara of financing, training and arming rebels fighting troops loyal to Al Assad. The UN says Turkey currently hosts more than 260,000 Syrian refugees.
The interview with Al Assad was conducted on Tuesday and is to run on Friday, according to the president’s YouTube channel.
In another extract from the interview, Al Assad condemned the killing on March 21 of prominent pro-regime Sunni cleric Mohammad Saeed Al Butti as part of a plan to sow “sectarian strife” in Syria.
“There is no doubt that the role of clerics, including Dr Butti, was key to ensuring the failure of a covert plan to create sectarian strife. That’s why they assassinated Dr Butti,” Assad said.
The UN says more than 70,000 people have been killed in a spiralling war that broke out after the army unleashed a crackdown on a peaceful revolt which morphed into an armed revolt.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to visit Turkey this week as part of a trip to Western Europe and Asia to consult allies on issues including Syria’s civil war, a Turkish official told Reuters on Wednesday.
Washington regards Turkey, which shares a 900 km border with Syria, as a pivotal player in backing the Syrian opposition and planning for an era after Al Assad.
“Mr Kerry will visit Turkey. The date is not clear yet but possibly it will take place either on Friday or on Saturday,” said the official, who declined to be named. The US State Department was not immediately available to comment.
A month ago, on his first visit to Turkey since taking office, Kerry criticised Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan for a comment likening Zionism to crimes against humanity, a spat that cast a shadow over talks between the Nato allies.
US President Barack Obama brokered a tentative reconciliation between Turkey and Israel during a trip to Israel a few weeks later. Israel bowed to a long-standing demand by Ankara, once a close strategic partner, to formally apologise for the killing of nine Turkish citizens in a 2010 naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
The rapprochement between the two US allies could help regional coordination to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war and ease Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the Middle East as it faces challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear programme.