Turkey warns will hit back if IS attacks Syria exclave

Turkey warns will hit back if IS attacks Syria exclave
A Turkish army tank takes up position on the Turkish-Syrian border.

ANKARA - Turkey warned on Saturday it would not hesitate to strike back at Islamic State jihadists if they attacked Turkish troops stationed at Ankara's exclave inside Syria.

"We will absolutely not hesitate to respond if something happens there," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, referring to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman dynasty Osman I.

The small patch of land inside Syria around the tomb is considered Turkish territory under a 1920s treaty signed between the Turkish authorities and France, who at the time had a mandate on Syria.

"Forty of our soldiers are stationed in this zone, which is Turkish territory," he said.

"If one so much as touches a hair on the their heads, Turkey with its army will do all that is necessary and everything will change from that moment on," Erdogan warned.

His warning came just two days after Turkey's top general issued an unusual message of support for the Turkish troops stationed at the tomb, saying that the army "will be there for you the moment we hear a single word from you."

Some press reports said this week that the exclave had been surrounded by Islamic State (IS) jihadists, who have taken over swathes of northern Syria, and the few dozen, lightly-armed Turkish troops stationed there had been taken hostage.

Turkey's leaders have categorically dismissed the reports.

Its parliament this week authorised the government to take military action against IS extremists, whose forces have been battling Kurdish fighters around a key town just across the border with Turkey, but so far no plans to carry out military operations have been announced.

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