Türkiye is prepared to always stand by a united, prosperous and peaceful Syria after a fair, honorable and inclusive agreement, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday amid a tentative possibility to restore Turkish-Syrian ties that were cut off at the start of the Syrian civil war more than a decade ago.

“Türkiye has always extended to Syria a hand of friendship and will continue to do so, as long as Syria initiates this embracement and recovers in all senses,” Erdoğan said.

Speaking to reporters on his flight from Kazakhstan to Germany for Türkiye’s Euro 2024 quarterfinal against the Netherlands, Erdoğan argued the recent calm in the field in Syria’s 13-year-long civil war, “smart policies” and an “unprejudiced approach” could carve a path to permanent peace in Türkiye’s southern neighbor.

“If Russian President Vladimir Putin and (Syrian leader) Bashar Assad visit Türkiye per our invitation, it could be the start of a new process,” Erdoğan said, referring to Putin’s acceptance of his invitation at the Shanghai Cooperation Summit (SCO) in Astana on Thursday.

The Turkish president floated restoring ties with Damascus last Friday, days after Bashar Assad said Syria was open to all initiatives to revive Turkish-Syrian relations “as long as they are based on respecting the sovereignty of the Syrian state over all its territory and fighting all forms of terrorism.”

Assad also wants Turkish troops backing his opposition and fighting PKK/YPG terrorists out of northern Syria. Türkiye says its support for the Syrian opposition’s armed forces primarily aims to ensure a terror-free northern Syria immediately across the Turkish border, which suffered several cross-border attacks by the PKK in the past, and that they respect Syria’s sovereignty.

The Damascus-based regime and Ankara sought reconciliation in 2023 with talks sponsored by Assad’s main backers, Russia and Iran, but so far, meetings of Turkish and Syrian regime ministers have failed to produce a solid result in normalization.

Turkish-Syrian relations saw a decline in 1998 when Türkiye accused Syria of supporting the PKK, a terrorist group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in its decadeslong terror campaign against Türkiye.

Tensions further escalated in 2011 due to the start of the Syrian civil war and a subsequent influx of migrants numbering over 4 million.

Erdoğan said the yearslong civil war has blatantly shown everyone the need for a permanent solution in the Syrian field.

“The eradication of terrorism is vital for the construction of Syria’s future,” he added.

He also hit out at PKK, the YPG and Daesh for “being bothered” by the possibility of normalization, arguing that they were against it “because they don’t want Syria to recover.”

“There are many formations in northern Syria, which include those who want to quickly improve their relations with Türkiye,” Erdoğan said.

‘Provocative’ riots

On recent “provocative” anti-Turkish and anti-Syrian riots in Türkiye and Syria, Erdoğan blasted “those trying to disrupt brotherly climate between Turks and Syrians with racist trends.”

Türkiye in the past week was rocked by a string of xenophobic riots targeting refugees across several cities, allegedly fueled by the sexual assault of a girl by a Syrian man.

The riots sparked counter-protests in Syria’s northern territories liberated by Türkiye. Several were killed during the riots that targeted Turkish flags and trucks carrying Turkish license plates, as well as military observation points in Syrian opposition-held areas.

Ankara said it was closely following provocative acts in Syria against Türkiye by “certain groups” and took necessary measures to prevent their repeat while the Syrian Interim Government quickly intervened to ease the outburst.

Erdoğan blamed Turkish opposition parties’ anti-refugee campaigns for the riots in Türkiye and terrorist groups for the incident in northern Syria.

“No one can play justice in this country. Even if such incidents break out in Türkiye, the forces that fight terrorism will not allow them to thrive,” he said.

Ankara has been conducting a trio of operations against the YPG in northern Syria since 2016 and maintains military bases in northern Iraq where the PKK operates a stronghold.

Earlier this year Erdoğan signaled a possible final swoop-in on the PKK targets this summer to “eradicate the group at its roots.”

He said current developments will determine a potential ground offensive “but if the need arises, Ankara will do so according to the size of threat in both Iraq and Syria since our relations are good.”

Ankara has asked Iraq for more cooperation in combating the PKK. Baghdad labeled the group a banned organization in March and set up two military bases in the northern Zakho region in April.

Turkish mediation

Erdoğan also revealed Putin was still on board with the now-collapsed Black Sea grain deal, which was widely hailed as averting a global food crisis during 2022-2023.

Erdoğan’s government has sought to maintain good ties with both Kyiv and Moscow during the war, offering to host peace talks or mediate.

He said it would be beneficial to develop the deal, which delivered much-needed grain to poorer African nations.

“Because Putin has an anti-Western view since Europe is targeting Russia and vice versa but Russia views Türkiye differently in this context,” Erdoğan said, assuring talks would continue with the Kremlin on the issue.

“I believe we could make the grain corridor functional again with the outcome of this process,” he added.

He also lambasted Western interests in the Russia-Ukraine war, saying: “Death merchants are the only winners of this war.”

“I believe tensions will not decline and that a foundation for peace can be achieved,” Erdoğan said. “Türkiye is prepared as always to help build and protect that ground.”

Gaza cease-fire

“Western countries must pressure Israel to accept the latest Gaza cease-fire proposal,” Erdoğan also said, adding that he believes a definitive cease-fire is possible.

“After U.S. President Joe Biden’s phone call to (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu, I hope a final cease-fire would be secured in a couple of days so that Israel’s recent massacres would come to an end.”

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