UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS OF ERDOGAN
By Muhammet Emin Avundukluoglu
ANKARA (AA) - The only reason of Turkey's existence in Syria is the terror threat towards the country's borders, said the Turkish president on Tuesday.
"Turkey backs the territorial integrity of Syria and the political and administrative unity of Syrians," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during his speech at the opening of Turkish parliament’s third legislative session of the year in the capital Ankara.
"The only reason of our existence in Syria is that the terror threat towards our borders has turned to a barrier preventing the return of the Syrians," said Erdogan.
''We do not back the war, clash, blood shed, death or suffering in Syria'', he said.
Syria has been gripped by conflict since 2011 when demonstrations seeking democratic reforms were fiercely cracked down on by the Syrian regime.
More than half a million people have died in the ensuing conflict and millions more have been displaced as large swaths of Syria have been reduced to rubble.
Erdogan also said that a total of 360,000 Syrians had returned to areas cleared of terrorists with Turkey's anti-terror operations.
Turkey is aware of the economic, social, and cultural challenges of hosting 3.65 million Syrians, he said.
"We also know that no country other than Turkey can shoulder such a burden or can manage it for such a long time," said Erdogan.
"However, we do not have a thought of hosting millions of refugees in our territories forever," he added.
Since 2011, over 5 million civilians have become refugees, and Turkey hosts over 3.6 million of them, being the country hosting the highest number of refugees in the world.