AMMAN: The Islamic State may have avoided a confrontation with Turkey on Wednesday by reportedly releasing 36 Turkish soldiers guarding the tomb of Suleiman Shah, a Turkish enclave in northern Syria, after kidnapping them Tuesday.
“The arrest of the Turkish soldiers occurred under the watch of individual elements of IS,” said Adnan al-Hussein, the director of a nearby media center, who is now based on the Turkish side of the border.
“But IS released them all Tuesday night and they returned back to their posts.”
The Suleiman Shah tomb, the burial site of the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, is a sliver of sovereign Turkish land situated on the Euphrates River 25 kilometers south of the Turkish border and 35 kilometers southwest of the embattled Kurdish town Kobani.
The tomb is under Turkish governance according to the 1921 Treaty of Ankara signed by Turkey and France stating that the tomb “shall remain, with its appurtenances, the property of Turkey, who may appoint guardians for it and may hoist the Turkish flag there.”
The kidnappings reportedly took place Tuesday, said Smart News Agency and other pro-opposition news agencies. It was not immediately clear why the kidnappings took place, but nearly 1,000 IS fighters have begun to surround the tomb, Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya quoted Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc as saying in a press conference Tuesday.
IS’s advance on the tomb, combined with the increasingly tenuous Kurdish position in Kobani – known as Ain al-Arab in Arabic – has caused Turkey to increase its security in the area by sending 35 tanks to the border, reported Jordanian news agency Assabeel on Tuesday.
The advance comes in the wake of the Turkish government’s move to request authorization from its parliament to step up its military efforts against IS, Hurriyet reported on Wednesday.
The latest parliamentary proposal includes allowing foreign troops to use Turkish military bases, creating ‘safe havens’ around the Turkish border for the Free Syrian Army and Islamic Front and sending Turkish troops into Syria.
Last month, 49 Turkish consulate members were freed under unclear circumstances in September after they were kidnapped by IS in its takeover of Mosul in June. Previously, Turkey had cited the kidnapped consulate members as the reason for its reticence to join the international coalition against the militant group.
In an earlier interview when he was still Prime Minister, current President Recep Erdogan stressed the tomb’s importance to Turkey.
“The tomb of Suleiman Shah and the land surrounding it is our territory,” Erdogan said in the interview.
“We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory as well as an attack on NATO land.”