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    Improved Syria-Turkiye ties should seek end to ‘occupation’: Assad

    DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that a Moscow-brokered rapprochement with Turkiye should aim for “the end of occupation” by Ankara of parts of Syria.

    The comment, in a statement from his office, was Assad’s first on meetings between ministers from Ankara and Damascus after more than a decade of enmity during Syria’s civil war.

    Ankara became a sworn enemy of Damascus when it began backing rebel efforts to topple Assad at the start of the civil war 12 years ago.

    But in late December the defence ministers of Turkiye and Syria held landmark negotiations in Moscow, the first such meeting since 2011.

    Analysts say Moscow is trying to bridge the divide between its two allies, united by a common “enemy” of United States-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

    President Bashar al Assad, right, meets with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan in Damascus, Syria. PHOTO: AP

    Ankara describes those forces as “terrorists”.

    The defence ministers’ meeting is to be followed by talks between the three countries’ top diplomats, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to Rwanda on Thursday.

    “For these meetings to be productive, they should be founded on coordination and advanced planning between Syria and Russia,” with the aim of “ending the occupation and support for terrorism” said Assad, who was receiving Moscow’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev.

    Since 2016, Turkiye has launched several incursions in northern Syria against Kurdish forces that have allowed it to control areas along the border.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called Assad a “terrorist” in 2017, has opened up to the idea of meeting the Syrian leader with whom he had good relations before 2011.

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