Syria opposition uneasy after Turkish, Syrian defence ministers meet


Damascus (Reuters) – Syria’s political and armed opposition are urging their decade-long backer Turkey to reaffirm its support for their cause after the highest-level talks in public between Ankara and the Damascus government since the Syrian war began in 2011.

Turkey has provided support and a base for political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s government while training and fighting alongside armed rebels against his troops.

But the Turkish and Syrian defence ministers met in Moscow on Dec. 28, with the topics of migration and Kurdish militants based on Syria’s border with Turkey on the agenda, according to a Turkish official.

That has prompted unease within Syria’s armed and political opposition.

The head of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a hardline insurgent group, said in a video address published on Monday that talks between Syria, Russia and Turkey were a “dangerous deviation”.

Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist faction, said that while it “understood the situation of our Turkish ally,” it “cannot even think of reconciling” with the Syrian government.

Ankara sought to reassure the opposition, with Defence Minister Hulusi Akar saying Turkey would not take any step that would cause problems for them.

“They should not take any different attitudes by relying on any provocation or false news,” Akar said on Wednesday, alluding to the opposition comments.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an opposition umbrella organisation, met Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday.

He had assured it of Turkey’s continued support “to Syrian opposition institutions and Syrians in the opposition-held areas,” said Abdurrahman Mustafa, the head of the Turkey-backed opposition’s provisional government.

Turkey’s talks with Syrian officials in Moscow mainly focused on the fight against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in the northeast, Mustafa reported Cavusoglu as saying.

A senior Turkish official told Reuters it had seen the reactions of rebel factions to the meeting but that “Turkey determines its own policy.”

“It is unrealistic to expect an immediate result from the first meeting of ministers,” the official said.

He also said Ankara asked Damascus to recognise the YPG as a terrorist organisation in last week’s talks in Moscow.

Turkey sees the YPG as the Syrian wing of the PKK militant group, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Turkish-Syrian rapprochement seemed unthinkable earlier in the conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, drawn in numerous foreign powers and splintered Syria into various zones of influence.

President Tayyip Erdogan has called Assad a terrorist and said there could be no peace in Syria with him in office, while Assad has called Erdogan a thief for “stealing” Syrian land.

But meetings between the two countries’ security chiefs last year paved the way for the defence minister summit.

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