Ottoman tomb too important for Erdogan to abandon but move signals no major policy change on ISIL.
The Syrian government has said that Turkey informed Syria ahead of a major overnight military incursion but did not await Syrian agreement to the action.
Almost 600 Turkish troops entered Syria on Sunday, relocating a historic tomb and evacuating the soldiers guarding the monument after it was surrounded by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Syrian state media described the incursion as “flagrant aggression”.
“Turkey goes beyond supporting ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist gangs to launch a blatant aggression on Syrian territory,” state-run SANA news said, referring to the alternate name of ISIL.
Turkish soldiers guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah were successfully evacuated to Turkey in the military operation early on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
Davutoglu said the remains of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, would be moved to a different area of Syria which has been brought under Turkish military control.
The Turkish military said in a statement that there had been no clashes during the operation, the first such ground incursion by Turkish troops into Syria, but that one soldier had been killed in an accident.
“Unfortunately we had one casualty and this was not as a result of a clash but due to an accident that happened at the beginning of the operation,” Davutoglu said at a news conference in Ankara.
The soldiers brought the remains of Suleyman Shah and some relics back to Turkey.
The new planned site for the tomb, which is closer to the border, is under control of Turkish army. The replacement of the tomb will take place later, Davutoglu said.
“These relics will temporarily be preserved in Turkey for the next couple of days and God willing, will be sent to Eshme, the area of the new tomb secured by our soldiers, as is our right by international law,” the prime minister said.
Davutoglu said the Turkish soldiers were not supported by local Kurdish fighters in the operation.
“The decision was solely taken in Ankara, within the framework of international law, without asking any permission or help from any party. The Turkish military would overcome any obstacle, whoever comes their way, risking clashes.”
The Turkish government said late last year that ISIL fighters were advancing on the mausoleum, which is guarded by several dozen Turkish soldiers.
At a news conference in Ankara on Saturday, Davutoglu said the incursion into Syria involved 100 military vehicles including 39 tanks.
The tanks and armoured vehicles, supported by drones, rolled into Syria near the border town of Kobane and left Syria via the same route early on Sunday, witnesses told Al Jazeera.
The Suleyman Shah tomb was made Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when France ruled Syria and the government had repeatedly vowed to defend it from any attack by the Syrian rebels.