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Turkiye did not agree to withdraw military from Syria and no deals were made, sources say

January 3, 2023 at 8:05 pm

Turkish army members of 1st and 3rd Border Regiment Commands guard the border near Gaziantep, Turkiye. [Mehmet Akif Parlak – Anadolu Agency]

Turkish sources have refuted reports that Turkiye has agreed to withdraw its military from northern Syria, calling them misleading and as propaganda.

Following a meeting between the defence ministers of Turkiye, Russia and Syria last month – the first such talks since 2011 – it was reported by the Syrian newspaper, Al-Watan, that Ankara agreed with Damascus and Moscow to withdraw its forces from the liberated territories of northern Syria amid an acceleration in reconciliation between the Turkish and Syrian governments.

Multiple anonymous Turkish sources familiar with the events of the meeting, however, informed the London-based news outlet, Middle East Eye, that while the talks were positive, no deals were actually made and Ankara did not agree to military withdrawal.

“We strive to put a stop to refugee arrivals,” one source said, referring to the ongoing refugee crisis being one of the main topics discussed at the meeting. “We told them that the Syrian crisis must be resolved within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 2254”.

Addressing the reports of a Turkish military withdrawal, which the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad made a pre-condition to talks before its ally, Russia, pressured it to engage with the Turkish government, another source denied it and said the Syrian newspaper simply took out of context Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu’s recent remarks that Ankara would hand over its northern Syrian territories, only once no terror threat exists within them.

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The definition of “terrorists” and classification of various militant groups in Syria with that label was reportedly a sticking point in the talks, with the Turkish side continuing to disagree with the Assad regime’s view that all Syrian opposition groups are terrorists.

Although the Turkish Defence Minister and delegation did not agree to the military withdrawal demands, the source emphasised that it does not mean it will always be off the table. “We never said that we would annex the Syrian territories. We always said we would withdraw once a political solution has been reached there.”

That source added that Ankara “is making clear that we are open to cutting a deal” but that “We don’t expect any major issue to be resolved quickly”.

Talks between the Turkish and Syrian governments are set to continue in the coming months, with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu announcing a few days ago plans to formally meet his Syrian counterpart later this month.

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