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Syrian foreign ministry 'doubts Turkey's intentions in anti-IS effort'

Ministry letter to the UN says Syria 'rejects the Turkish attempt to paint itself as a victim that is defending itself'
Turkish army tanks and artilleries on high alert in Gaziantep near the Turkish-Syria border on 28 July 2015 (AA)

Syria's foreign ministry said on Wednesday it was sceptical about Turkish efforts to fight the Islamic State group (IS).

In a letter to the UN - the country's first official reaction since Turkish started targeting IS with airstrikes last week - the ministry said Turkey's activities were "better late than never".

"But are Turkish intentions to fight the terrorists of Daesh (IS), Al-Nusra Front, and Al-Qaeda-linked groups genuine?" the ministry asked. "Or is it aiming to hit the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, maybe for other internal reasons?"

Turkey has conducted airstrikes in Syria against IS since early Friday, after Ankara claimed a Turkish soldier was killed in cross-border fire by the militants in northwest Aleppo. 

Raids have also targeted the positions, including depots and caves, of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

Earlier this week, members of the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) said Turkish tanks hit its positions and those of allied Arab rebel fighters in Aleppo province with heavy fire.

The YPG is the militia associated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian Kurdish political party that oversees "Rojava", the name Syrian Kurds have given to areas where they have wrested control - and fought back IS - since the Syrian civil war began.

The PYD was established in Syria after the PKK, which had sanctuary in the country in the 1990s, was expelled in 1998, according to a Chatham House report released last week. While the party is ideologically linked to the PKK, it denies being a branch of the group that has been labelled a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Turkish officials have denied they were deliberately targeting the group, but instead were responding to fire from the Syrian side of the border.

The Syrian ministry's letter made no direct mention of Turkey's strikes over the past week, but said that Syria "rejects the Turkish regime's attempt to paint itself as a victim that is defending itself", accusing Ankara of supporting "terrorist" groups.

Turkey also gave formal approval Wednesday for the US to use Incirlik air base for raids against IS in Syria, after domestic and international criticism that it was not doing enough to curb IS activity along the border - and claims that Turkey has turned a blind eye to IS fighters crossing its borders.

Syria's government has repeatedly accused the Turkish government of supporting "terrorists" - the word it uses to describe all armed groups opposed to Damascus. 

"Syria has said for years that terrorism has no nation, religion or borders and warned terrorism's supporters that it would come back to them," the letter read.

"Unfortunately, we have lately begun to witness terrorism beginning to bounce back towards its supporters," it said.