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Turkey in direct contact with al-Assad, journalist claims

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A pro-government journalist has claimed that the Turkish government has been in direct contact with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to solve the problems triggered by the 11-year-old Syrian civil war, including the rising number of refugees in Turkey.

Abdülkadir Selvi from the pro-government Hürriyet daily said during a political debate program on CNN Türk on Thursday that officials from the Turkish government had been in direct contact with al-Assad but that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been trying to prevent it.

“Turkey doesn’t get in touch with the Syrian regime only through intelligence services. Contact has also been made directly with the Assad regime. … However, the obstacle is neither Turkey nor Assad. The obstacle is Putin. Putin doesn’t want any country other than [Russia] to have direct contact with Assad. … Every time Turkey makes contact, Putin has tried to prevent it. This is the situation,” Selvi said.

The journalist also made similar claims in a column on Friday, saying, in response to those who propose solving Turkey’s refugee problem by holding direct talks with al-Assad, that although the Syrian president was “eager” to get in touch with the Turkish government, Putin was “uncomfortable” by such direct contact between Ankara and Damascus.

“[I’ve learned that] Assad was eager to make contact with Turkey. But the problem … was Putin. Putin was uncomfortable with Assad’s direct contact with Turkey and wanted Turkey-Syria relations to be conducted through Russia. That’s why Putin was preventing Assad from making direct contact with Turkey,” Selvi wrote.

The journalist’s claims come amid increasing public discontent in the country with the rising number of Syrian refugees.

Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrians — the largest number in any one country of Syrians displaced during the 11-year-old civil war. Tensions between Turks and Syrians flare up on occasion in the host country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this week said in a video message he sent for the inauguration of houses built in Syria’s Idlib province by 12 Turkish NGOs that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was working on a new project to ensure the “voluntary” return home of 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Erdoğan, who long pursued an open-door policy toward refugees, signaled a change in his stance last month, saying his government is making efforts for the dignified return of Syrians to their homeland.

Following Erdoğan’s comments, his election ally, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, said uncontrolled migration is like occupation and should be prevented.

Erdoğan and Bahçeli’s remarks about the return of Syrian refugees to Syria come at a time when public surveys show their parties losing significant support amid a financial crisis in the country.

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