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Turkey will start training Syrian opposition next month: official

Reports come a day after Jordan issued clarifications about its own version of the US-backed training-equip programme
Turkey will start training up to 2,000 mainly FSA-allied fighters from late April (AFP)

Turkey will begin training up to 2,000 Syrian opposition fighters inside Turkey as early as next month, a Turkish official has said.

In comments made to Hurriyet Daily News and published on Wednesday, the unnamed official said that Turkey would provide military training bases in the southern province of Hatay, along with the Hirfanli military base in the central Anatolian province of Kirsehir.

The scheme is part of the training-equip programme agreed with the US in February and aimed at rooting out Islamic State militants in Syria.

The news comes a day after Jordanian authorities announced that they would be taking part in the programme.

“Jordan and other nations in the coalition and in the region will jointly train...Syrian tribes to fight against the terrorist bands,” government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani told reporters.

The Pentagon-run programme has been in the works since June 2014, but hurdles over which groups should be trained and where the training would take place had stalled progress.

While Ankara and Washington are still working on the list of Syrian opposition forces that will receive training, the Turkish official added that the initial crop of recruits will likely be made up of Turkmens from the Damascus and Aleppo areas.

According to Turkish media reports, the details are still being hammered out, with Turkey reportedly demanding an equal say in which groups will be included. While the US has focused on booting out IS, Ankara continued to insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also be made an “essential target”.

“Syria can never be peaceful with Assad in power,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

“I find it unlikely that the US administration and institutions would support such a killer."

More than 210,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad broke out more than four years ago, with Assad accused of using brutal and bloody methods – including chemical weapons and widespread torture - to quell any form of opposition.

On Wednesday, fresh allegations emerged saying that forces loyal to Assad had dropped chlorine gas on civilians in the Idlib province.

Opposition activists said that 20 people – mainly women and children – had to be treated for chlorine inhalation, in the sixth such attack in recent months.

Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek also warned on Tuesday that IS could only be defeated if Assad was removed.

"As long as the Assad regime is there it will not be possible to defeat and uproot the most merciless and bloody terror group, Daesh." Cicek said at the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies.

"Turkey has been cracking down on the foreign fighters crossing the country into Syria, the oil smuggling controlled by Daesh and has signed the train-equip programme for the moderate Syrian opposition groups with the US," he said, using the Arabic term for IS.

Turkey has previously come under pressure for failing to stop the flow of foreign fighters attempting to join militant groups in Syria.

However, according to Cicek, Turkey has now stopped the entry of 12,550 individuals from 93 countries from crossing into Syria to join groups like IS. 

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