Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the Turkish president may be using the recent coup attempt in Turkey to eliminate his opponents in government institutions.
Assad was speaking at a Sunday meeting with a visiting delegation of Lebanese politicians headed by Najah Wakim, the president of the Lebanese People’s Movement, in the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.
Referring to the recent developments in Turkey, Assad said there is no clear picture of what is going on in Turkey yet and there are many speculations about the coup attempt.
First comes a coup and then a purge?
The attempted putsch in Turkey began on Friday night and the violence and fighting between the rebel soldiers and government loyalists dragged into Saturday, when the coup was largely defeated.
Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government has arrested thousands of people on suspicion of involvement in the putsch, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted that the country may modify the Turkish constitution so as to allow the execution of those involved in the coup bid. Capital punishment is banned under the current Turkish constitution.
“One cannot ignore the possibility that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, is using these developments to eliminate his opponents in Turkey’s military, judicial and political institutions,” Assad said in his Sunday remarks, according to Al-Akhbar.
Various Turkish officials, including Erdogan, have said those deemed to have played a role in the coup attempt will pay a heavy price.
The crackdown that has been launched in Turkey following the coup, including the mass arrests of suspects, has raised international concern.
France on Sunday warned Erdogan not to use the coup attempt as a “blank check” to silence opponents.
“There cannot be purges… Those who tried to violate Turkish democracy must be pursued within the framework of the rule of law. It’s not for an arbitrary power to carry it out,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
‘No compromise on the battlefield’
Elsewhere in his remarks, Assad referred to the armed conflict in his own country and said the fate of Syria will have to be determined on the battlefield.
“In the ongoing battle on Syrian soil, no compromise can be made because armed groups that are being managed by foreign parties can only be handled with the military,” the Syrian president said.
A handout picture made available on June 26, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) meeting with Syrian soldiers in al-Marj region in Damascus Province. (Via AFP)
He also expressed gratitude for Iran as well as the Lebanese resistance movement of Hezbollah for their assistance to the Syrian government and people in the fight against terror.
Iran has been offering Damascus advisory military help, and Hezbollah fighters have been assisting the Syrian military in areas close to the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Russia, another Syrian ally, has been conducting an aerial military campaign against militant groups in Syria on an official Syrian request since September 2015.
Assad said political, diplomatic, military and security cooperation continues firmly between his government and that of Russia.
West in contact with Syria behind the scenes
The Syrian president also said Western governments have had secret contacts with his government seeking security cooperation and even the opening of security missions in Damascus.
He said Syria has informed them that it will accept security cooperation with those governments only if they restore normal ties with Damascus.
“Some countries and Arab parties have secret contacts with us and say explicitly that they do not publicize their stances toward the Syrian developments lest the US and Saudi Arabia are angered,” President Assad said.
He had said previously too that Western countries seek to secretly cooperate with Syria on security matters.
“They attack us politically and then they send officials to deal with us under the table, especially [on] security,” he said in previous remarks in early July.
Western countries have supported the militants fighting to overthrow Assad in a war now in its sixth year, which has claimed some 400,000 Syrian lives, according to an estimation by the UN special envoy to Syria.
The Syrian government is fighting militants, including from scores of countries.
Western calls for Assad’s ouster have become relatively muted as they become preoccupied with the rise of Daesh and other Takfiri groups striking at the heart of Europe and as they realize the importance of Damascus’ fight against terrorism.