Syria’s Assad calls Erdoğan a thief during visit to government forces

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Tuesday visited his forces on the front lines in Idlib, where he called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a thief and accused Turkey of stealing territory in a military offensive in northeast Syria, the Associated Press reported.

Tuesday’s was the first visit by Assad to the northern province, where his forces have this year been trying to wrest control from opposition groups, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya said.

Assad called Erdoğan a “thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory”.

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring, its third military incursion into northern Syria since 2016, on Oct. 9. Turkish forces already control sizable territories in the northwest of the country seized in two previous operations.

The Syrian president’s visit also comes on the day Erdoğan, who backs some of the rebel groups in Idlib, is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the new situation in Syria after the operation.

Moscow, a key backer of Assad, is the likely power broker in areas of Syria’s northeast after the withdrawal of U.S. troops this month and Turkey’s subsequent cross-border operations against the Syrian Kurdish-led forces Washington left behind.

While Erdoğan wishes to create a 32 km deep safe zone running along the Syrian-Turkish border from the River Euphrates to the border with Iraq, Putin has called on Ankara to negotiate with Assad, who demands the return of full control of all Syrian territory.