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Turkish Operation Rescues Soldiers Guarding Tomb In Syria

Turkish soldiers during the military operation in Syria on Sunday. Turkey launched the raid to evacuate some 40 soldiers guarding the Tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire.

The Turkish army launched an overnight operation to rescue some 40 of its soldiers guarding an Ottoman-era tomb in Syria. The soldiers had come under attack by self-declared Islamic State.

The remains of the Tomb of Suleyman Shah were taken back across the border.

NPR's Peter Kenyon, reporting from Geneva, says that throughout the conflict in Syria, Turkey has kept soldiers at the tomb near Aleppo. Suleyman Shah was the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled vast parts of Europe, Asia and Africa for six centuries. Shah is revered by Turks.

"We had given the Turkish armed forces a directive to protect our spiritual values and the safety of our armed forces personnel," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in televised remarks.

The New York Times writes: "The operation, called 'Sah Firat,' began on Saturday and involved a large convoy of tanks and other heavy weaponry that entered Syria through Kobani, the Kurdish territory in Syria that has recently been freed of Islamic State militants in an American-led military operation, according to the Turkish newspapers Milliyet and Yeni Safak. The reports were pulled from the Internet almost immediately after being posted."

The operation involved some 600 Turkish troops and 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers backed by surveillance flights by manned aircraft and drones.

By way of background, The Associated Press notes:

"Turkey was widely criticized for not intervening for months in the Kobani battle, which finally saw Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led airstrikes push out the extremists.

"There had been rumors for months that the soldiers stationed at the tomb had been besieged by militants from the Islamic State group, which hold a third of Syria and neighboring Iraq in their self-declared caliphate. Some 40 Turkish soldiers once guarded the tomb, making them a target for the Islamic State group and other militants in Syria's long-running civil war, though the overnight operation apparently saw no fighting."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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