Turkish prime minister says no plans for ground troops in Syria

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has no plans to send ground troops into Syria but has agreed with the United States that air cover should be provided for moderate rebels fighting Islamic State forces there, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted on Monday as saying. Long a reluctant member of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, Turkey made a dramatic turnaround last week by granting the alliance access to its air bases and launching air raids against both the jihadists and Kurdish militants in Iraq. Davutoglu was quoted as telling a round table with Turkish newspaper editors that while differences with Washington remained over some aspects of policy in Syria, there was enough common ground to reach agreement on opening up the air bases. "An important point was the air cover for the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and other moderate elements fighting against Daesh (Islamic State)," the Hurriyet newspaper quoted him as saying. "If we are not going to send in land units on the ground, and we will not, then those forces acting as ground forces cooperating with us should be protected," he said. Davutoglu was also quoted as saying that the Syrian Kurdish PYD party could "have a place in the new Syria" if it did not disturb Turkey, cut all relations with President Bashar al-Assad's administration and cooperated with opposition forces. The armed wing of the PYD has emerged as the only notable partner so far on the ground for the U.S.-led alliance as it fights against Islamic State in northern Syria. But the advances by Syria's Kurds have alarmed Turkey, which fears they will stir separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish community. The PYD has links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union and Turkey. Turkish fighter jets attacked PKK camps in northern Iraq for a second night on Sunday, security sources said, in a campaign that risks breaking a peace process meant to end an insurgency which has killed 40,000 people since 1984. (Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Eric Walsh; Editing by Paul Simao)

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