President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the United Nations Climate Summit 2014 September 23, 2014 at the United Nations in New York
President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the United Nations Climate Summit 2014 September 23, 2014 at the United Nations in New York © Don Emmert - AFP/File
President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the United Nations Climate Summit 2014 September 23, 2014 at the United Nations in New York
Stuart Williams, and Fulya Ozerkan in Ankara, AFP
Last updated: September 27, 2014

Erdogan signals more active Turkish role in anti-IS fight

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday signalled Turkey would take a more active role in the coalition against Islamic State (IS) militants following the release of Turkish hostages held by the jihadists.

Ankara has for months frustrated the West with its distinctly low-key role in the campaign against IS jihadists but insisted its hands were tied by concerns over the fate of the hostages.

But Erdogan has now set up a possible critical change in policy on October 2 when parliament is due to meet on extending mandates allowing Turkish military action in Iraq and Syria.

"Now the position has changed. What follows will be much different," Erdogan told reporters after flying back to Istanbul from a trip to the United States where he met US Vice President Joe Biden.

He said that "necessary steps" would be taken by parliament on October 2. "This mandate is the mandate to authorise the armed forces," he said, without specifying the exact nature of the measures.

"We do not have the luxury to say terrorist actions along the 1,250-kilometre (775-mile) (Turkish) border with Syria and Iraq do not concern us," Erdogan added.

His comments came as IS militants pressed their advance in northern Syria around the town of Ain al-Arab just south of the Turkish border, which has sparked an influx of 160,000 refugees into Turkey.

Support from Turkey would be a huge boost for the fight against IS and reports have said the United States wants to use the Incirlik air base for launching air raids on IS.

- 'Turkey won't be a bystander' -

In a clear indication that Turkey would take a stronger role, Erdogan said Ankara had a responsibility not to be a "bystander" as the US leads the campaign against IS.

"We, as Muslims, should do our best. If the Christian world takes such a step on an issue that hurts the conscience of humanity we will not remain a bystander."

"Our religion does not allow the killing of innocent people," he said, acknowledging that the actions of IS were "casting a shadow" on Islam.

The dozens of Turkish hostages, including diplomats and children, were abducted from the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq in June.

They were released after a three-month ordeal last weekend, reportedly following secret negotiations between Turkey's secret service and jihadists that resulted in the release of some 50 Islamist militants.

Turkish officials repeatedly said that taking a more active role in the fight against IS while they were held could have endangered the hostages' lives.

The White House said that at their talks Biden and Erdogan had "discussed the urgent need to build a broad-based coalition" and a regional strategy to defeat IS, including through military action.

- Kurds break through border fence -

The threat posed by Islamist fighters clashing with Kurdish militia near the border has also threatened Turkey's fragile peace process with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.

The PKK has urged Turkey's Kurds to join the ranks of the militia groups to defend Ain al-Arab while accusing Ankara of taking side with IS militants.

Turkey's security forces last weekend fired tear gas and water cannon to block Turkish Kurds from crossing the frontier and joining the war in Syria.

In response, Kurdish militants have vowed to reciprocate the "war" waged by the Turkish government.

But in another change of approach, Turkish security forces appeared to turn a blind eye Friday as hundreds of Kurds broke through the border fence to go into Syria.

Turkish and Syrian Kurds on both sides worked to pull down the barbed wire and mesh border fences, as well as the concrete border posts around the border crossing of Mursitpinar, an AFP photographer said.

Davutoglu said Friday the government would "work day and night to finalise" a settlement to the 30-year-old conflict between the Turkish state and Turkish Kurds which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

Meanwhile, the Turkish army said a mortar shell fired from Syria during the clashes there landed on an empty field on the Turkish side of the border. It caused no damage nor casualties.

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