Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Image Credit: AFP

Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday accused Iran of sectarian policies in neighbouring Syria by putting its weight behind Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

“Had Iran not stood behind Al Assad for sectarian reasons, today maybe we would not be discussing an issue like Syria,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul.

Iran and Turkey are on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, with Ankara supporting rebels fighting Al Assad and joining a US-led coalition bombing Daesh in Syria.

Shiite Iran however, along with Russia, is a major supporter of Al Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect of Shiism.

Erdogan blasted Russia and Iran as well as Daesh and Syrian Kurdish fighters for “massacring innocent people mercilessly” in Syria.

He said groups such as Daesh and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) were “instruments of a global power struggle”.

“They are the same as the PKK here. They are no different,” he said, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey considers the PYD the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which has waged a bloody insurgency in the mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984.

Separately in Tehran, Rouhani on Sunday criticised Muslim countries for “being silent in the face of all the killing and bloodshed” in Syria, Iraq and Yemen - conflicts in which Iran plays a role.

He said that Muslims must improve the image of their religion, which has been tarnished by the violence of hardline groups such as Daesh, “It is our greatest duty today to correct the image of Islam in world public opinion,” Rouhani told a conference on Islamic unity in Tehran in a speech broadcast by state television.

Most “violence, terror and massacres, unfortunately, take place in the Islamic world,” he said.

“Did we ever think that, instead of enemies, an albeit small group from within the Islamic world using the language of Islam, would present it as the religion of killing, violence, whips, extortion and injustice?” Rouhani said.

“If some groups like Daesh can recruit soldiers, the reason is financial and cultural poverty,” he said.