Turkey boosts Syria ties amid renewed Israel row

By AFP – 13 Oct 2009

ALEPPO, Syria — Turkey boosted its ties with Syria at the first meeting of a newly formed cooperation council on Tuesday, only days after Ankara’s relations with Israel took a downturn.

The foreign, defence, interior, economy, oil, electricity, agriculture and health ministers of the two countries attended the strategic talks in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Turkish-Syrian relations have improved after decades of mistrust based on Ankara’s accusations that Damascus supported Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu that Damascus regarded the PKK as a “terrorist organisation banned” in his country.

Turkey’s ties with Israel took a turn for the worse on Sunday when the Jewish state announced Ankara had decided to exclude Israel from the “Anatolian Eagle” joint military exercises.

The move came after Syria and Turkey signed an agreement in Istanbul last month to establish the cooperation council as part of efforts to forge closer links. Under the accord, the council will meet once a year.

The air force exercises involving Turkey, Israel and members of the NATO military alliance had been due to be held near Konya in central Turkey from October 12 to 23.

“It is natural that we would welcome” Ankara’s decision to cancel the manoeuvres, Muallem said.

“The Turkish decision was taken because of Turkey’s position towards the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip” in December and January, he said.

Damascus “welcomes the cancellation, because Israel always attacks the Palestinian people, maintains an embargo on Gaza and rejects any Turkish effort to resume peace talks” between Syria and Israel, Muallem added.

Davutoglu underlined the importance of the Aleppo meeting for the two neighbours.

“Turkey is the gateway for Syria to Europe just as Syria is the gateway for Turkey to the Arab world,” the Turkish foreign minister told reporters.

Syria and Israel began indirect peace talks through Turkey in May 2008.

But they were suspended in December last year after Israel launched a 22-day war on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, according to Palestinian medical sources.

Thirteen Israelis were also killed in the conflict.

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