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Egypt urges Turkish troop withdrawal from Syria

Egypt’s top diplomat has called on Turkey to pull out its military forces from Syria, signaling tensions amid efforts for Cairo-Ankara rapprochement.

“I said that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity should be preserved. And I said that foreign powers should be withdrawn from Syrian territory,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday.  

It was Shoukry’s second visit to Ankara in as many months to hold talks with Turkish officials.

Turkey deployed forces to northeastern Syria in October 2019 in violation of the Arab country’s territorial integrity after Turkish military forces launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push militants of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

For his part, Cavusoglu reaffirmed Turkey’s longstanding position that its military presence was needed to fight “terrorism.”

“We must make sure that there is no threat to us from there,” Cavusoglu said.

The remarks come amid a regional drive to resume diplomatic relations with Damascus despite the Western and Israeli opposition. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Jordan are among the states that have made efforts to restore ties with Damascus more than a decade after the eruption of foreign-backed militancy in Syria.

Mired in an economic crisis and preparing for key presidential elections, Turkey has also signaled interest in restoring ties with regional states, including Egypt and Syria.

Ankara has been seeking to organize a meeting between Turkish and Syrian presidents, however, President Bashar al-Assad said the meeting would take place only after the withdrawal of Turkish forces.

Turkey severed its relations with Syria in March 2012, a year after the Arab country found itself in the grip of deadly violence waged by foreign-backed militants. The Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria says the Turkish offensive has killed hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children since it started.

Assad and other senior officials have said the Damascus government will respond through all legitimate means available to the ongoing ground offensive by Turkish forces and allied Takfiri militants in the northern part of the war-wracked Arab country.

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