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No Turkey-Syria normalization unless Ankara withdraws forces from Arab country: Deputy FM

US troops walk past a Turkish military vehicle during a joint patrol with Turkish forces in the Syrian village of al-Hashishah on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkey, on September 8, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Syria’s deputy foreign minister has ruled out the possibility of any normalization deal with Turkey unless Ankara’s occupation forces leave the Arab country.

Bassam Sabbagh said in an interview with the Arabic service of Russia's Sputnik news agency on Monday that Turkey must order its military forces to retreat from Syria, otherwise it will eliminate any efforts aimed at resuming Ankara-Damascus relations.

"Turkey must withdraw its military forces,” Sabbagh said. “On any other aspects, yes, of course, we will be open to discuss with them, but not to do so and insist on staying - this is an illegal occupation and will therefore hinder all efforts aimed at that (normalization deal)."

Sabbagh, who is also Syria's permanent representative to the United Nations, stressed, "There is no kind of contact and relationship with Turkey" at the present time.

In a press release on Friday, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler underscored Ankara's readiness to resume talks to normalize relations with Damascus while reiterating his country's position of refusing to withdraw its troops from northern Syria.

Labeling Syria’s proposal as "illogical," Guler claimed, “We are always ready to sit down and engage in a dialogue but the demands of the Syrian side are not something that can be accepted immediately.”

The Turkish defense minister added, "They want Turkey to leave Syrian territory, but why should Turkey leave?"

Turkey severed its relations with Syria in March 2012, a year after the Arab country found itself in the grip of deadly violence waged by foreign-backed militants, but now, after over a decade, the two neighboring countries are taking steps toward reconciliation.

In the meantime, Turkey deployed forces in Syria in October 2019 in violation of the Arab country’s territorial integrity.

Ankara-backed militants were deployed to northeastern Syria after Turkish military forces launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push militants of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

The Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria says the Turkish offensive has killed hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children, since it started. Turkey has also played a major role in supporting terrorists in Syria ever since major foreign-backed insurgency overtook the country more than ten years ago.

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