May 4, 2016 / 8:57 AM / a year ago

Turkey could send ground troops into Syria in self-defense: PM

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is ready to send ground forces into Syria to tackle Islamic State militants if need be, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, as two more rockets fired by the group struck a border town.

President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would respond to all rockets fired by Islamic State and vowed that the jihadists would suffer greater losses if they continued their aggression.

Turkey has argued the case for ground troops in Syria in the past, although it has always said it would not mount a unilateral incursion unless its national security was threatened.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Davutoglu said United Nations resolutions give Turkey “legitimacy” to enter Syria to fight Islamic State and others in the name of self-defense.

“If ground troops become vital, we would send them. We are ready to take all measures inside and outside Turkey to defend ourselves,” he said in the interview late on Tuesday.

His comments came hours before two more rockets struck Kilis, a border town where 19 people have been killed so far this year from repeated artillery strikes.

No one was hurt in Wednesday’s incident, when the shells hit an empty field near the town center.

“Recently our town of Kilis has been persistently hit by harassing fire, many of our citizens have lost their lives. Every attack has been responded to and will continue to be,” Erdogan told a meeting of local administrators.

“Daesh has suffered its greatest casualties in operations it undertook against Kilis. If it continues, it will see greater losses,” he said in comments broadcast live. Daesh is an Arabic term for Islamic State.

SHELLING AND AIR STRIKES

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the militants in Syria and northern Iraq and has stepped up its efforts after initial reluctance to confront the group, which controls swathes of territory along its border.

The United States and Turkey have for months been discussing a military plan to drive Islamic State from the border.

Turkey has fired 5,330 shells against Islamic State, destroying many gun positions, shelters and bases and killing 370 militants, the state-run Anadolu Agency said on Tuesday.

There have been 167 Turkish air strikes against the group in the same period and 492 jihadists have been killed, it also said. The death toll includes 32 militants killed in northern Iraq near the Bashiqa military camp, it said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu voiced frustration over Islamic State’s continued grip in Syria and Iraq despite what he said was a near two-year long effort by the U.S.-led coalition involving 65 countries.

“Daesh should be cleared from the region. This is the most permanent solution,” Cavusoglu told reporters.

Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley and Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Gareth Jones

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