Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad has blamed the Turkish military for the fall of Idlib, a major city in northwestern Syria, to a coalition of opposition rebels groups last month including the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
"The main factor was the huge support that came through Turkey; logistic support, and military support, and of course financial support that came through Saudi Arabia and Qatar," Assad said in an exclusive interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen.
Idlib became the second Syrian province to officially fall out of the grasp of the Damascus-based regime after Raqqa was overrun by ISIS militant group, which later declared it the de facto capital of its “caliphate.”
Assad also accused Turkey of using its influence over rebel groups in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, to persuade them against agreeing to a ceasefire plan proposed by U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura.
"The Turks told the factions - the terrorists that they support and they supervise - to refuse to cooperate with De Mistura," he said.
Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, relocated its political headquarters to Turkey after the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
The war started in the context of the “Arab Spring” revolution, which saw former autocrats toppled in popular uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen.
Largely peaceful demonstrations across the country were followed by a number of defections from the Syrian army after soldiers were told to fire live ammunition on unarmed protesters.
The remnants of the Syrian regime, which has been to date backed mainly by Russia, China and Iran, see rebel groups fighting against it as “terrorists,” while rebel groups insist they are fighting to end over four decades of dictatorship by the Assad family.
Assad also accuses Turkey of backing hardline ISIS militants, who added a new dimension to the war by fighting against both regime forces and other rebel groups not aligned to their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Turkey, however, says the rise of ISIS can only be overcome by dealing with the root cause of its existence, which is the regime.
Dismissing Assad’s allegations, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç told Reuters the Syrian regime leader’s claims are “baseless.”
"Claims that armed forces coming from Turkey have participated in the Idlib offensive do not reflect the truth. This is out of the question. These are baseless allegations originated by the Syrian regime which should not be taken seriously," Bilgiç said.
Along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey has been confirmed as hosting a site training 5,000 allied Syrian rebels as part of a U.S. led “train and equip” program. Jordan also declared it will play a role in the program last month.
Although the program seems designed mainly to teach civilians how to use small arms as well as infantry tactics for the fight against ISIS, the Turkish government continues to insist international efforts should also be made to defeat the Assad regime.
Earlier this year Turkey successfully helped fight off an ISIS assault on the Kurdish border town of Kobane by allowing Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga troops to enter Syria through its territory.