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Syria’s Assad ties rapprochement with Turkey to 'end of occupation'

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) receives Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev (R) and his accompanying delegation in Damascus, Syria, on January 12, 2023. (Photo by Syrian Arab News Agency)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has tied a Russian-brokered rapprochement with Turkey to the end of Ankara’s occupation of the northern parts of the Arab country and its support for militant groups wreaking havoc and fighting against the Damascus government.

Assad made the remarks at a meeting with Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and his accompanying delegation in Damascus on Thursday.

The comment was Assad's first on meetings between officials from Damascus and Ankara after more than a decade of enmity following the breakout of conflict in Syria in March 2011.

Analysts say Moscow is trying to bridge the divide between its two allies, united by a common “enemy” – US-sponsored and Kurdish militants in northern Syria.

Also on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing in Moscow that a meeting between Russian, Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov, Faisal Mekdad and Mevlut Cavusoglu, is being hammered out, but the date has not yet been set. “There is no concrete date yet. We have already talked about it, such a meeting is in the works,” she said. “We will let you know the details, including the date, the issues to be discussed, the participants and formats as soon as it will be coordinated with the parties.”

Back on December 28 last year, defense ministers of Russia, Turkey and Syria held talks in Moscow in a clear sign of normalization between Ankara and Damascus.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and the head of the country’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Hakan Fidan, met Syrian Defense Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk along with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Turkish Defense Ministry said at the time.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously talked about the possibility of a face-to-face meeting with Assad. That meeting, he said, should be preceded by talks among the heads of the intelligence services, defense and foreign ministers. 

Turkish-language daily newspaper Aydinlik, citing sources, reported on January 10 that Erdogan may meet with Assad before the June presidential election in Turkey. The report said the meeting between the two leaders is expected as part of the third stage of normalization of Turkey-Syria relations.

Turkey cut off its relations with Syria in March 2012, a year after the Arab country found itself in the grip of rampant and hugely deadly violence waged by foreign-backed militants and terrorists, including those allegedly supported by Ankara.

Since 2016, Turkey has also conducted three major ground operations against US-backed militants based in northern Syria.

The Turkish government accuses the militants, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), of bearing ties with the Kurdistan Workers' Party militant group.

Turkey has been launching airstrikes on northern Syria and Iraq since November 20, against, what it calls, hideouts belonging to the PKK.

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