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Moualem from Beijing: Syria Doesn’t Want Armed Confrontation with Turkey

Moualem from Beijing: Syria Doesn’t Want Armed Confrontation with Turkey

Wednesday, 19 June, 2019 - 06:30
Turkish soldiers walk at the Atmeh crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border, as seen from the Syrian side, in Idlib governorate, Syria, May 31, 2019. (Reuters)
Beijing, London - Asharq Al-Awsat

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Tuesday his country does not want an armed confrontation with Turkey.

His comments were made after Ankara announced that one of its observation posts in Syria’s Idlib region was attacked from an area controlled by Syrian regime forces.

Russia, which supports Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war, and Turkey, long a backer of opposition factions, co-sponsored a de-escalation pact for the area that has been in place since last year. But the deal has faltered in recent months, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee.

Idlib is the last remaining bastion of opposition factions after eight years of civil war.

“We hope that our military and the Turkish military do not fight. This is our principled stance,” Moualem told reporters in Beijing, standing alongside the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councilor Wang Yi.

“What we are fighting is terrorists, especially in Idlib, which is Syrian territory, part of our country,” Moualem said in Arabic comments translated into Chinese.

The dominant force in the Idlib region is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, known formerly as the Nusra Front that was part of al-Qaeda until 2016. Other factions, including some with Turkish backing, also have a presence.

“The question now is, what does Turkey want to do in Syria? Turkey is occupying part of Syrian soil, and has a military presence in certain parts of Syria,” Moualem noted.

“Are they protecting the Nusra Front? Are they protecting certain terrorist forces, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement?” he wondered, referring to an extremist group China blames for attacks in far western Xinjiang with operations elsewhere.

“This question needs to be asked of Turkey, what are their actual aims? We are fighting those terrorist groups and organizations. The whole world believes those people we are fighting are terrorists.”

Since April, Syrian regime forces have stepped up shelling and bombing of Idlib, killing scores of people.

The opposition says this action is part of a campaign for an assault that would breach the de-escalation deal.

The regime and its Russian allies, however, say the action is in response to opposition violations, including the presence of fighters in a demilitarized zone.

China has long urged that a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian war be found and has hosted Syrian regime and opposition figures.

Wang said that China will continue to support Syria to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and fight against terror, and it will help with Syria’s economic reconstruction efforts.

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