Around 2,000 Syrian fighters will take part in a train-and-equip program in Turkey starting from early March, Turkish foreign minister said Friday.
Addressing a joint press conference with Turkey’s EU Minister Volkan Bozkir, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and Interior Minister Efkan Ala after the Second Reform Action Group meeting at Ankara Palace, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that between 1,500 and 2,000 fighters would receive the training expected to get completed in a year.
"The aim of the program is to ensure a political transition and strengthen the opposition in their fight against threats such as extremism, terrorism, and all elements that pose a threat to the opposition, including from the regime (of Bashar al-Assad)," Cavusoglu said.
He added that other countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia were also engaged in similar programs for the Syrian fighters.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass officially signed an agreement about the program Thursday.
Earlier, Cavusoglu had said Turkey expected Syrian fighters trained in the joint program to fight both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group, and Assad regime.
The Pentagon said Wednesday the U.S. had already identified 1,200 individuals to be vetted for the program.
No hostage situation in Turkish exclave
The foreign minister denied that Turkish troops guarding the Suleyman Shah tomb in Syria had been taken hostage by ISIL terrorists.
"We saw what a false story can do. It topped the agenda yesterday night and got into the parliament discussions as well. But the allegations are not true," Cavusoglu said.
Turkey has a sovereign exclave inside Syria, 30 kilometers south of the border, where Shah’s remains are buried.
Shah has an important place in Turkish history since he was the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey, US ink deal to train-equip Syrian opposition
Turkey and the United States have signed an agreement on "train-and-equip" program for Syrian opposition forces.
The deal that has been under discussion for a while between the two countries was inked late Thursday by Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass at the ministry's headquarters.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Sinirlioglu said "The agreement is an important step in our common efforts for this strategic partnership. It was important and this is just the beginning."
"We have a lot of things to do, we have a very chaotic situation in our neighborhood and in different parts of the world. So, when we work together, we believe we can make a difference," he added.
U.S. Ambassador Bass also said, "Thank you very much, and let me thank you Feridun Bey, and all of your colleagues here at the Ministry who have gotten us to this point where we could sign today. I firmly believe, we are always stronger when we work together and anytime we can come to a formal agreement that gives us a basis to strengthen our partnership we are better off and the region is better off. And I agree with you this is the start, and we have a lot of work ahead of us."
"But I am pleased that we have taken this step and on behalf of my government I want to thank you and your colleagues very much for the spirit that you approached this negotiation, this discussion to get us to this point, which I think really reflects the principles and the practice of our strategic partnership," he said.
The newly-inked train-and-equip program, which will be carried out jointly by Ankara and Washington, is expected to be launched in the coming days.
According to Turkish diplomatic sources, the aim of the program is to realize an actual political transformation in Syria on the basis of the Geneva Communique.
Turkish FM confirms train-and-equip agreement signed
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu late on Thursday said Turkey and the U.S. signed a train-and-eqiup agreement aimed at bolstering Syrian opposition forces.
"Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass signed the agreement," Cavusoglu told reporters at an Expo 2016 Antalya reception at Cernmodern in Ankara.
The minister said the two countries had already reached an agreement to train the Syrian opposition, adding that the forces will fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and the other terrorist groups on the ground as well as the Syrian regime.
Cavusoglu said additional details would be released later.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the U.S. looks forward to implementing the plan, and thanked Turkey for its efforts and "their ongoing part in these discussions."
Meanwhile, Tanju Bilgic, the spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, dismissed an allegation that one of the Turkish troops serving in Suleyman Shah tomb in Syria was taken hostage.
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