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Turkey hosts Syria opposition after outreach to Assad

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Turkey on Tuesday hosted the leaders of Syria’s opposition in a bid to assuage their concern following its overtures to Damascus, Agence France-Presse reported.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu tweeted images of his meeting in Ankara with the opposition Syrian National Council chief Mahmut al-Maslat and other leaders.

The talks came less than a week after the defense chiefs of Turkey and Syria held landmark negotiations in Moscow — the first such meeting since 2011.

“We reiterated our support to the Syrian opposition and people in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2254,” Çavuşoğlu said in reference to a 2015 United Nations call for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.

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

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — who called Assad a “terrorist” in 2017 — has opened up to the idea of meeting the Syrian leader.

Erdoğan has suggested that the talks between the defense chiefs be followed up by a meeting between the foreign ministers that could set up a potential presidential summit.

Çavuşoğlu said he expects to meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Moscow in the second half of January.

But Assad’s regime appears cool to Erdoğan’s outreach efforts.

‘Extended hand’

Some analysts believe that Assad will not agree to meet Erdoğan before Turkey holds a general election — now scheduled for no later than June.

Erdoğan’s foreign policy adviser İbrahim Kalın said it was “too early to say right now” when the two presidents might meet.

“How all of this unfolds depends on the regime’s attitude,” Kalın told NTV television.

“Turkey has extended its hand. We do not think that they will leave this hand hanging.”

Erdoğan’s hopes for talks with Assad follow calls from Turkey’s main opposition party for Ankara to pull back its troops from Syria and make peace with Damascus.

The opposition is pressing Erdoğan to speed up the “voluntary” return of nearly four million Syrians who fled the fighting to Turkey.

Anti-refugee sentiments are running high in Turkey ahead of the election and Erdoğan has hardened his once-accepting stance towards people displaced by war.

Kalın confirmed that Ankara was now pressing Damascus “to take steps for the return of refugees and the humane treatment of displaced Syrians.”

The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who reside mostly in parts of the war-torn country under Ankara’s indirect control.

It has also caused concern in Washington, but won strong backing in Moscow — the main military backer of Assad.

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