Egypt Sets Presidential Elections Date with Sisi Expected to Run

Head of the National Election Commission, Lasheen Ibrahim, speaks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt January 8, 2018. (Reuters)
Head of the National Election Commission, Lasheen Ibrahim, speaks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt January 8, 2018. (Reuters)
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Egypt Sets Presidential Elections Date with Sisi Expected to Run

Head of the National Election Commission, Lasheen Ibrahim, speaks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt January 8, 2018. (Reuters)
Head of the National Election Commission, Lasheen Ibrahim, speaks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt January 8, 2018. (Reuters)

Egypt’s National Electoral Commission announced on Monday the final and biding timetable of the 2018 presidential elections, which will take place in March.

The authorities will start receiving candidacy applications as of January 20 and for a period of ten days.

According to the Egyptian Constitution, “candidates for the Presidency of the Republic shall be required to be nominated by at least twenty members of the House of Representatives or to be supported by at least 25 thousand citizens who have the right to vote in at least fifteen governorates and at least a thousand supporters in each governorate.”

The head of the Electoral Commission, Lasheen Ibrahim, said during a press conference that Egyptians residing in Egypt are invited to cast their vote during a period of three days, on March 26, 27 and 28, while Egyptians living abroad will vote on March 16, 17 and 18.

The results of the first round will be announced by April 2, while the final results will be declared on the first of May.

President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has not explicitly expressed his intention to run for a second term in the elections. He is expected to present this month what he described as a “statement of account” on his first term’s achievements.

A campaign led by parliamentarians in December said it had collected “12 million signatures from citizens supporting Sisi’s candidacy for another term.”

Human rights defender Khaled Ali and former MP Anwar Sadat announced their plans to run for president.

On the other hand, Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said on Sunday that he was no longer running for the presidency, because he was not the “best to lead the country”.

The 2014 elections resulted in Sisi achieving victory with 23.7 million votes (96.9 percent of valid votes), while Hamdin Sabbahi won 750,000 votes (3.1 percent of voters).



UN Technical Vessel Arrives at Rusting Oil Tanker off Yemen’s Coast as Salvage Operation Begins

This handout picture released on May 30, 2023 courtesy of Boskalis shows the first photos of the FSO Safer taken from the salvage vessel Ndeavor near the coast of Yemen. (Handout / Boskalis / AFP)
This handout picture released on May 30, 2023 courtesy of Boskalis shows the first photos of the FSO Safer taken from the salvage vessel Ndeavor near the coast of Yemen. (Handout / Boskalis / AFP)
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UN Technical Vessel Arrives at Rusting Oil Tanker off Yemen’s Coast as Salvage Operation Begins

This handout picture released on May 30, 2023 courtesy of Boskalis shows the first photos of the FSO Safer taken from the salvage vessel Ndeavor near the coast of Yemen. (Handout / Boskalis / AFP)
This handout picture released on May 30, 2023 courtesy of Boskalis shows the first photos of the FSO Safer taken from the salvage vessel Ndeavor near the coast of Yemen. (Handout / Boskalis / AFP)

The first technical salvage vessel arrived Tuesday near the rusting Safer oil tanker floating off the coast of Yemen, the United Nations said.

The arrival of Ndeavor, which set off from neighboring Djibouti on Monday, marks the first step of an estimated four- to six-week UN operation aiming to avert a major oil spill from the tanker, representatives from the international body announced.

Experts say the tanker poses a major environmental threat.

A team of experts on the Cypriot-flagged Ndeavor are expected to begin pumping inert gas to remove atmospheric oxygen from the oil chambers of the Safer on Wednesday, said David Gressly, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

Transferring the estimated 1.14 million barrels of oil to a different tanker could start in around two weeks, he said from aboard the Ndeavor. After the transfer is complete, the Japan-made oil tanker will eventually be towed away and scrapped, he said.

The Safer was built in the 1970s and sold to the Yemeni government in the 1980s to store up to 3 million barrels of oil pumped from fields in Marib, a province in central Yemen. But the nation has been engulfed for years in war and no annual maintenance has been carried out on the ship, which is 360 meters (1,181 feet) long with 34 storage tanks, since 2015.

The Safer is anchored around 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the port city of Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi militias.


UN: Nearly 70% of Syria’s Population Needs Aid

30 May 2023, Syria, Idlib: Workers seal sacks of plastic items collected from landfills, before transfering them to be crushed and recycled into usable products. Photo: Anas Alkharboutli/dpa
30 May 2023, Syria, Idlib: Workers seal sacks of plastic items collected from landfills, before transfering them to be crushed and recycled into usable products. Photo: Anas Alkharboutli/dpa
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UN: Nearly 70% of Syria’s Population Needs Aid

30 May 2023, Syria, Idlib: Workers seal sacks of plastic items collected from landfills, before transfering them to be crushed and recycled into usable products. Photo: Anas Alkharboutli/dpa
30 May 2023, Syria, Idlib: Workers seal sacks of plastic items collected from landfills, before transfering them to be crushed and recycled into usable products. Photo: Anas Alkharboutli/dpa

For the first time in Syria’s 12-year war, people in every district are experiencing some degree of “humanitarian stress,” and a staggering 15.3 million — nearly 70% of the population — need humanitarian aid, the United Nations said Tuesday.

A UN appeal for $5.4 billion to help over 14 million people in Syria is less than 10% funded and the UN World Food Program has warned that without additional money, 2.5 million people are at risk of losing food or cash assistance from July.

The dire humanitarian situation, compounded by the February earthquake that devastated the opposition-held northwest, was spelled out to the Security Council by the UN humanitarian office’s operations director Edem Wosornu.

The Syrian people “are more and more reliant on humanitarian assistance as basic services and critical infrastructure are on the brink of collapse," she said.

According to The Associated Press, Wosornu urged generous pledges and the swift release of funds at a European Union hosted conference in Brussels on June 14-15. She said “Syrians need the support of the international community now more than at any time in the past 12 years.”

She said the need to maintain the delivery of humanitarian aid to the northwest is even more critical after the earthquake. She said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a 12-month extension of the UN mandate, which expires in July, saying the assistance is “indispensable” and “a matter of life and death for millions of people” in the region.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States will seek a council resolution to extend aid deliveries through the three border crossings currently operating: Bab Al-Hawa, which was the single crossing Russia would allow to remain open in January, as well as Bab Al-Salam and Al Raée, which Syria’s President Bashar Assad agreed to open after the quake, which killed over 6,000 in Syria and has displaced over 330,000. Assad has agreed to keep the two additional crossings open through Aug. 13.


Blast in East Lebanon Kills 5 in Base Controlled by Palestinian Faction, Israel Denies Role

The site of the blast in Qusaya. (Safa)
The site of the blast in Qusaya. (Safa)
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Blast in East Lebanon Kills 5 in Base Controlled by Palestinian Faction, Israel Denies Role

The site of the blast in Qusaya. (Safa)
The site of the blast in Qusaya. (Safa)

A blast early Wednesday at a military base controlled by a Syria-backed Palestinian faction in eastern Lebanon killed five Palestinian militants and wounded 10 others, according to two Palestinian officials with the group.

The faction said an Israeli airstrike caused the blast, but that account was disputed by an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, who denied the country had any role in the incident. Israel does not typically respond to foreign reports.

In Beirut, a Lebanese military official said the explosion was the result of a blast within the base, adding that there was no airstrike. An official with a regional group allied with the Syrian government, said the explosion was the result of a “human error” that occurred when militants were handling ammunition. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Anwar Raja of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, told The Associated Press in Damascus that the Israeli strike hit positions in the eastern Lebanese town of Qusaya near the border with Syria. He said two of the wounded were in critical condition.

Another PFLP-GC official, Lebanon-based Abu Wael Issam, told the AP that his group will retaliate “at the suitable time.” He added that the strike will not deter his group from “escalating the fight against the Israeli enemy.”

The Lebanese army and Lebanon's Hezbollah party also had no immediate official comment on the airstrike.

Raja attributed Israel’s denial to “the sensitivity of the situation in Lebanon,” a suggestion that any acknowledgement of a strike by Israel would push Hezbollah to retaliate.

It has been rare for Israel to carry out airstrikes on Lebanon in recent years.

Israel launched strikes in southern Lebanon in April, a day after gunmen fired nearly three dozen rockets at Israel, wounding two Syrian workers and causing some property damage. The Israeli military said at the time that it had targeted installations of Hamas, the Palestinian movement, in southern Lebanon.

The PFLP-GC has positions along the Lebanon-Syria border as well as military presence in both countries. The group had carried out attacks against Israel in the past.

The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other Western countries.


Sudan Army Suspends Truce Talks with RSF 

A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)
A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)
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Sudan Army Suspends Truce Talks with RSF 

A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)
A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)

The Sudanese army has suspended its participation in US- and Saudi-brokered ceasefire talks with its paramilitary foes, a government official told AFP on Wednesday.  

The army took the decision "because the rebels have never implemented a single one of the provisions of a short-term ceasefire which required their withdrawal from hospitals and residential buildings, and have repeatedly violated the truce", the Sudanese official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

The negotiations with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which began in early May, had produced a declaration of commitments to protect civilians and two short-term ceasefire deals, although those deals were repeatedly violated. 

Residents reported heavy clashes in southern Khartoum and in Omdurman across the River Nile until late on Tuesday. 

The army, which relies on airpower and artillery, and the RSF, a more lightly armed force but a tough adversary in Khartoum street battles, had agreed to extend a week-long ceasefire deal by five days just before its Monday expiry. 

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a career military officer, and RSF General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a former militia commander known as Hemedti, have been locked in a battle for power since April 15. Neither side seems to have an edge. 

The RSF said in a statement late on Tuesday it was committed to the ceasefire "despite repeated violations" by the army. 

Before the ceasefire deal was renewed, an army source said the army had demanded the RSF withdraw from civilian homes and hospitals as a condition for an extension. After the five-day extension was agreed, talks continued on the terms of the truce. 

The truce was brokered and is being remotely monitored by Saudi Arabia and the United States. They say it has been violated by both sides but has nonetheless allowed the delivery of aid to an estimated 2 million people. 

The war has killed hundreds of people and forced nearly 1.4 million people to flee their homes, with more than 350,000 of those heading to neighbouring countries. 

Khartoum and the capital area have been the site of the heaviest fighting, although clashes have erupted in other regions, including Darfur, a region in Sudan's far west. 

The capital has seen widespread looting and frequent power and water supply cuts. Most hospitals have stopped functioning. 

The United Nations, some aid agencies, embassies and parts of Sudan's central government have moved operations to Port Sudan, the main shipping hub on the Red Sea which has seen little unrest. 

After long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir was toppled in an popular uprising in 2019, the army and RSF leaders staged a coup in 2021 before they due to hand leadership to civilians. They fell out over the chain of command and restructuring of the RSF under the planned transition. 


Iraq Anticipates Iranian Strike against Kurdish Opposition

 Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and  National Security Advisor, Qasim Al-Araji sign the agreement documents, in the presence of Al-Sudani in Baghdad in March. (Reuters)
Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and National Security Advisor, Qasim Al-Araji sign the agreement documents, in the presence of Al-Sudani in Baghdad in March. (Reuters)
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Iraq Anticipates Iranian Strike against Kurdish Opposition

 Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and  National Security Advisor, Qasim Al-Araji sign the agreement documents, in the presence of Al-Sudani in Baghdad in March. (Reuters)
Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and National Security Advisor, Qasim Al-Araji sign the agreement documents, in the presence of Al-Sudani in Baghdad in March. (Reuters)

Iraq anticipated a potential Iranian strike against the Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdistan region, through tours conducted by National Security Advisor Qasim Al-Araji to Baghdad, Sulaymaniyah and Tehran.

In March, Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani’s government signed a security protocol for cooperation and coordination with Iran, on the sidelines of a visit by the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, to Baghdad.

Since then and until the beginning of May, the Iraqi Border Guard forces set up more than 30 surveillance towers in the Kurdistan region, on the Iraqi-Iranian border, to prevent smuggling from both sides, according to a security report.

Last week, Al-Araji discussed with the military attaché at the Tehran embassy in Baghdad, measures to secure the borders between the two countries.

Al-Araji’s office reported that he had “received a directive from Sudani to travel to the Kurdistan region to discuss the same issue with officials there.”

Meanwhile, Iranian officials who visited Iraq, since the beginning of 2023, focused on the matter of “armed Kurdish groups opposing Tehran, which are active in areas of the Kurdistan region.” Tehran has always repeated that it “will not, under any circumstances, accept threats from Iraqi soil.”

During a meeting earlier this month, Al-Araji discussed with the Minister of Interior of the Kurdistan Region, Rebar Ahmed, securing the borders with Iran, before the Iraqi official traveled to Sulaymaniyah to meet the leader of the Patriotic Union, Bafel Talabani.

The two Kurdish officials said, in separate statements, that the security authorities in the region were working to complete the procedures stipulated in the “security report”.

Various Kurdish sources noted that the Kurdish parties were facing difficulties in dealing with the Iranian Kurdish opposition groups. In fact, a number of those belong to leftist currents that have historical ties and interests with local groups.

Other sources said that the issue “goes beyond historical national ties, and involves political maneuvers related to the internal conflict in the Kurdistan region.”

In Iran, Al-Araji met on Monday with the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Ali Akbar Ahmadian. According to Iraqi sources, the latter received Iraqi pledges to control the borders, and messages from Kurdish parties about “guarantees not to allow any opposition group to target Iran’s interests.”

However, Kurdish sources stressed that Iran wanted to “expel these groups from Iraqi territory.”

Ahmadian told the Iraqi delegation that Tehran wanted “to end the presence of the Iranian Kurdish opposition parties in the Kurdistan region.”

He described the security protocol signed between the two countries as “a road map that guarantees the security and stability of the common borders.”


Burhan: Sudanese Army Ready to ‘Fight until Victory’

Al-Burhan visiting his soldiers on Tuesday (Sudanese Armed Forces Facebook page)
Al-Burhan visiting his soldiers on Tuesday (Sudanese Armed Forces Facebook page)
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Burhan: Sudanese Army Ready to ‘Fight until Victory’

Al-Burhan visiting his soldiers on Tuesday (Sudanese Armed Forces Facebook page)
Al-Burhan visiting his soldiers on Tuesday (Sudanese Armed Forces Facebook page)

The head of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Army Commander Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, visited on Tuesday the bases of his forces, praising the loyalty of the entire Sudanese people to the army.

In a speech on the occasion, Al-Burhan said that that the armed forces “have not yet exploited their full power so as not to destroy the country.”

“But if the enemy does not obey or comply, we will be forced to use our utmost powers,” he added.

Al-Burhan noted that that the armed forces agreed to a ceasefire to facilitate the flow of services to citizens, who were exhausted by the violations of the rebels.

He described the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as a “rebel militia”, which he said “plundered the people’s property, violated their sanctities, and tortured and killed them.”

Al-Burhan stressed that the armed forces would remain “ready to fight until victory,” adding that they fully controlled all military sites in Sudan.

Fighting renewed between the army and the RSF and clashes broke out in separate areas of the capital, despite an agreement reached on Monday over the renewal of a short-term ceasefire for an additional five days.

Othman Jaafar, from the Haj Yusuf area, east of Khartoum, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We hear the heavy exchange of bullets near our area.”

The forces of Freedom and Change – the former ruling coalition - called on the leaders of the army and the RSF to abide by the ceasefire agreement, to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

The coalition strongly condemned the continued armed presence in residential areas and service facilities, as well as attacks on civilians, and urged the two sides to stop the clashes immediately, hold the perpetrators accountable, and return the looted property.

For its part, the United Nations said that fighting continues between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF in Khartoum and other parts of the country, despite the ceasefire, which took effect on May 22.

The UN reported that the fighting since April 15 has forced nearly 1.4 million people to flee their homes, inside and outside the country.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 345,000 Sudanese have crossed into neighboring countries, including Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Central Africa, and Ethiopia.


US Targets Syrian Money Service Businesses in Fresh Sanctions

The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)
The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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US Targets Syrian Money Service Businesses in Fresh Sanctions

The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)
The Treasury Department is pictured in Washington, US, April 25, 2021. (Reuters)

The United States on Tuesday imposed punitive measures on two Syrian money service businesses it said help the government maintain access to the international financial system in violation of sanctions, in Washington's first action targeting Syria since its readmittance to the Arab League earlier this month.

The US Treasury Department in a statement accused the two money service businesses, Al-Fadel Exchange and Al-Adham Exchange Company, of helping President Bashar al-Assad's government and its allies, Hezbollah and Iran's Quds Force, an arm of its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

The sanctions were imposed under the Caesar Act that also levied a tough round of sanctions on Syria in 2020.

The United States has said it will not normalize ties with Assad and has said Syria did not merit readmission into the Arab League.


Iraqi Kurdistan 2022 Parliament Extension Unconstitutional, Supreme Court Rules

In this picture taken on May 16, 2023, people walk past the citadel of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (AFP)
In this picture taken on May 16, 2023, people walk past the citadel of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (AFP)
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Iraqi Kurdistan 2022 Parliament Extension Unconstitutional, Supreme Court Rules

In this picture taken on May 16, 2023, people walk past the citadel of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (AFP)
In this picture taken on May 16, 2023, people walk past the citadel of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (AFP)

Iraq's federal supreme court ruled on Tuesday that a one-year extension of the term of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region parliament in 2022 was unconstitutional and undermined democracy in the country, its top judge Jassim Mohammed said.

All decisions issued by the regional parliament from the date of its term extension on Oct. 9, 2022, were therefore considered null and void, Mohammed said.

Kurdistan, which has enjoyed wide autonomy from Baghdad since the 1990s, has in the past ignored rulings by the federal supreme court, including a Feb. 2022 ruling that deemed its oil and gas law unconstitutional.

With its capital in Erbil, Kudistan is home to more than 5 million people out of Iraq's 43 million population and produces about 450,000 barrels of oil per day, though exports were halted in March.

Baghded-Erbil relations have been fractious for years with disagreements over energy resources and disputed territories.

The ruling could raise tensions amid discussions over a draft federal budget that the Kurdistan Regional Government has said includes changes it opposes.

Ruling Kurdish parties, including the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), agreed to the 2022 extension after failing to reach consensus on a new electoral law.

They pledged to hold elections in November 2023, but have yet to reach consensus on new regulations.

On May 22, KDP and PUK lawmakers brawled inside the regional parliament's chamber during discussions on electoral regulations, a sign that agreement remained far off.


Libya Court Sentences 23 to Death for ISIS Campaign

Suspects sit behind bars during a judgement sentence against 56 defendants accused of joining ISIL [ISIS], in a court in Misrata, Libya [Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters]
Suspects sit behind bars during a judgement sentence against 56 defendants accused of joining ISIL [ISIS], in a court in Misrata, Libya [Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters]
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Libya Court Sentences 23 to Death for ISIS Campaign

Suspects sit behind bars during a judgement sentence against 56 defendants accused of joining ISIL [ISIS], in a court in Misrata, Libya [Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters]
Suspects sit behind bars during a judgement sentence against 56 defendants accused of joining ISIL [ISIS], in a court in Misrata, Libya [Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters]

A Libyan court sentenced 23 people to death and another 14 to life in prison on Monday for their role in a deadly ISIS militant campaign that included beheading a group of Egyptian Christians and seizing the city of Sirte in 2015.

The Attorney General's office said in a statement that one other person was sentenced to 12 years in prison, six to 10 years, one to five years and six to three years while five were acquitted and three others died before their case came to trial.

ISIS's Libyan branch was one of the militant group's strongest outside its original territory in Iraq and Syria, taking advantage of the chaos and warfare that followed a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Reuters said.

In 2015 it launched an attack on the luxury Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, killing nine people, before abducting and beheading dozens of Egyptian Christians whose deaths it featured in grisly propaganda films.

After gaining territory in Benghazi, Derna and Ajdabiya in eastern Libya, the group seized the central coastal city of Sirte, holding it until late 2016 as it enforced a harsh regime of public morality backed up by brutal punishments.

Mustafa Salem Trabulsi, head of an organization for bereaved families of people killed or disappeared by the group said he had hoped that all the suspects would face the death penalty but he accepted the outcome.

"My son is missing and my relative, my brother-in-law, was murdered in Sirte Square," he said.

Speaking in court on Monday, Fawzia Arhuma said she welcomed the death sentences after her son was killed by the group at a power station near Sirte.

"Today my son raised my head. Today I buried my son," she said.

 


After Erdogan’s Elections Victory, Türkiye Holds Back on Assad Meeting

A view shows a roundabout with a sculpture featuring the Turkish flag and the Syrian opposition flag, in the opposition-held city of Azaz, Syria May 15, 2023.(Reuters)
A view shows a roundabout with a sculpture featuring the Turkish flag and the Syrian opposition flag, in the opposition-held city of Azaz, Syria May 15, 2023.(Reuters)
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After Erdogan’s Elections Victory, Türkiye Holds Back on Assad Meeting

A view shows a roundabout with a sculpture featuring the Turkish flag and the Syrian opposition flag, in the opposition-held city of Azaz, Syria May 15, 2023.(Reuters)
A view shows a roundabout with a sculpture featuring the Turkish flag and the Syrian opposition flag, in the opposition-held city of Azaz, Syria May 15, 2023.(Reuters)

Türkiye has slowed down the pace of its efforts to normalize ties with Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no plans to hold talks with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in the first presidential statement following Erdogan’s reelection for a third five-year term on Sunday.

"So far, there is no date for such a meeting... We need to see what steps the Syrian side will take," he said in a televised interview on Monday.

The foreign ministers of Türkiye, Russia, Syria and Iran had met in Moscow on May 10 to push forward normalization between Ankara and Damascus.

At the time, Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu said intense efforts will be made to normalize relations, hinting that a meeting between Erdogan and Assad may be held this year.

The only obstacle to the meeting was the Turkish military deployment in northern Syria.

Assad had said that he would not meet his Turkish counterpart before the complete troop withdrawal.

For his part, Erdogan had stressed that Türkiye will not pull out its forces and that they would continue their mission to combat “terrorist organizations” - a reference to the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that Ankara views as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Cavusoglu had warned that the withdrawal will allow such groups to fill the void left by the Turkish troops.