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Erdogan an occupier with 'sinister plans', claims senior Assad adviser

Bouthaina Shaaban claims Turkish president has allowed 'Muslim Brotherhood' to wage war in Syria, and is illegally occupying north
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has rejected claims it has aided hardline rebels in Syria (AFP)

DAMASCUS - Bashar al-Assad's presidential adviser has poured scorn on Turkey's president, claiming Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "sinister plans" have allowed rebels to invade the country and that his own troops are illegal occupiers in the north.

Bouthaina Shaaban also told Middle East Eye her government considered US-allied Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State to be illegitimate. However, she indicated there was no intention in Damascus to confront the Syrian Kurds nor Turkey militarily. 

In an exclusive interview, she said: "The Syrian army and its allies are the legitimate forces fighting IS. Any other forces which are not cooperating with the Syrian Arab government and the Syrian army are not legitimate on our land.

Most of those so-called oppositionists are Muslim Brothers and Erdogan is a Muslim Brother

- Bouthaina Shaaban, Syrian presidential adviser

"But this does not mean we are working for war or working to extend the war. We are trying our best to find a solution to all these problems."

Turkey has sent troops into northern Syria close to the border town of Jarablus, ostensibly to fight IS but also to prevent Kurdish forces from taking over the area. 

Other Turkish personnel are expected shortly in Idlib in northwestern Syria in line with an agreement with Russia and Iran last week to set up a de-escalation zone there. Turkey and Russia will each send 500 personnel to monitor a ceasefire. 

Along with Iran and Russia, Turkey is a guarantor of the so-called Astana process which has already created three other de-escalation zones in Syria. On Thursday, Erdogan said Turkey would send troops into Idlib province as part of the de-escalation plan.

Bouthaina Shaaban, Bashar al-Assad's senior adviser (AFP)

'Illegal actions'

Speaking before Erdogan's announcement, Shaaban claimed Turkey's president was the "origin" of many of the region's problems, adding that Turkey's role as an Astana guarantor "doesn't mean that what Turkey is doing in Syria is legal". 

"There's a difference between the Astana process and what Turkey is doing in Syria which is to occupy territory," she said, accusing Turkey of having played a negative and dangerous role in Syria by allowing rebel fighters, weapons and money to cross the border. 

She claimed the majority of remaining rebel fighters were "Muslim Brothers", a politically Islamist movement whose Syrian branch took up arms against the government in the 1980s in Hama and Aleppo. 

More recently, its affiliates in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have been branded "terrorists" by their governments, although they say they reject violence.  

"It's a war that is mainly supported by Turkey because most of those so-called oppositionists who are embraced by Turkey are Muslim Brothers and Erdogan is a Muslim Brother," she said. 

The world should be aware of these sinister plans of Erdogan

- Bouthaina Shaaban, Syrian presidential adviser

"I hope that Europeans will discover who he is before it becomes too late. I mean it. Because two years ago when Merkel came to him to discuss the issue of refugees I said she is coming to the source of the problem. He is the origin of the problem," she added. 

"I'm delighted to see Germany now becoming aware of the role of Erdogan regarding the Turks in Germany. And not only Turks in Germany but Turks in Central Asia. 

"Erdogan uses these Turks for his religious Brotherhood organisation and I really feel that Europe and the West and the world should be aware of these sinister plans of Erdogan."

Ankara and Erdogan have rejected repeated claims that Turkey is aligned with hardline rebels in Syria, such as the Nusra Front and Islamic State.

Turkish demands for regime change have apparently softened to ministerial statements that such a wish was "no longer realistic" and "hope" that relations could return to normal.

The Turkish government did not respond to MEE requests for comment on Shaaban's claims.

Turkish tanks head out of Jarablus, Syria on their way back to Turkey (AFP)

Kurd and Syrian forces converge in Deir Ezzor

Her comments came as Syrian forces pressed forward against the Islamic State group in Deir Ezzor, breaking a siege by IS against government-held areas with the help of Russian forces and air strikes. 

In two weeks, government soldiers connected the airfield and the main part of the city which were previously separated by IS fighters. Earlier this week they crossed to the east bank of the Euphrates using Russian pontoon bridges. 

Two Syrian military planes landed at the airfield for the first time for three years on Sunday. 

With the help of US special forces the largely Kurdish units, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, have almost completed the liberation of Raqqa, the capital of IS's self-styled caliphate. 

Kurdish forces have been moving south from Raqqa on the east bank of the Euphrates through Deir Ezzor province, in an apparent effort to reach strategic oil fields before the Syrian army.

The Syrian army's rapid advance is likely to block the Kurdish forces' plans. 

On the SDF, Shaaban said: "This small force does not express the opinion of all the Kurds in Syria.

"Millions of Kurds in Syria are very good citizens who want the unity of Syria and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria." 

'We do not recognise the Kurdish forces'

Asked if there was a risk of clashes between the Kurds and the Syrian army, Shaaban said: "We hope not."

Sameer Suliman, a general and the deputy head of the Syrian army's political administration, made a similar point in a separate interview with Middle East Eye. 

"We don't recognise the Kurdish forces and we have no coordination with them. But they are there and the US supports them. 

Turkey to deploy troops inside Syria's Idlib: Erdogan
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"The Syrian army is advancing towards where Daesh [IS] are and that is our right. Other parties understand that and should not put obstacles in our way," he said.

The speed of the Syrian army’s successes in Deir Ezzor could be due to an apparent decision by IS to make a hasty retreat. 

A usually well-informed local news agency in north-east Syria, Jorf News, reported last week that Yassen Salama Muadedi, the IS emir in charge of the war in Syria also known as Abu Taha, had summoned IS commanders to a meeting in al-Qaim in western Iraq on 12 September.

Jorf said he had ordered an immediate withdrawal of IS forces from Raqqa and Deir Ezzor after criticising commanders for negligence, bad planning and corruption.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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