Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called for an immediate and unconditional end to foreign countries’ presence in the Syrian Arab Republic’s territory during a speech delivered on Monday, before the 26 September 77th session of the UN General Assembly.
“Any foreign illegitimate existence on the Syrian territories contradicts the international law and the UN charter and must be ended immediately and unconditionally,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency quoted Mekdad as saying.
The minister called out Turkey’s seizure of large areas in northern Syria during military operations against Kurdish-led administrations.
Ankara justified these operations saying it was necessary for Turkish security to clear outlawed Kurdish groups from areas bordering Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to create a 30km-deep “safe zone” running along the length of the Syrian-Turkish border and this year threatened a new invasion to achieve this aim.
“Countering terrorism,” Iran’s state-run Press TV quoted Mekdad as saying, “does not mean occupying other people’s land, establishing a safe zone, or backing terrorists.”
Mekdad’s comments came after recent speculation that Damascus and Ankara could be heading toward rapprochement after more than a decade of hostilities. Turkey has been the main backer of Syrian opposition groups since the civil war began in 2011, and the Turkish military has stepped in on occasion to protect the opposition-controlled Idlib province from Syrian army advances.
But this year, as Ankara focused its attention on Kurdish groups in North and East Syria, Turkish officials hinted that they may hold the first direct talks with their Syrian counterparts in a decade.
In August, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said there would be “no preconditions” for such talks, fuelling rumours that contacts could be happening soon. Mekdad’s comments on Monday appear to dampen that speculation with a direct rebuke to Ankara.
The Syrian minister also accused Western countries of waging war against Syria in an attempt by the West to “keep its hegemony”, and called for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, a region in southern Syria which Israel has held since 1967.