Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says Damascus does after any conflict with Ankara after Turkish and Syrian government forces reportedly exchanged fire in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, the last major bastion of terrorists in the Arab country.
“We hope that our military and the Turkish military do not fight. This is our principled stance,” Moualem said at a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in the capital Beijing on Tuesday.
“What we are fighting is terrorists, especially in Idlib, which is Syrian territory, part of our country,” he said.
Muallem’s comments came days after Turkey’s Defense Ministry claimed that Syrian government forces had carried out a deliberate attack on one of its observation posts in the troubled region, denying Russian assertions that a ceasefire had been put in place in Idlib.
Russia and Turkey earlier brokered a full ceasefire agreement in Idlib aimed at halting clashes between government forces and militants in the area.
Moscow, a Damascus ally, and Ankara, which backs a number of militant groups in Syria, signed an agreement last September to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib that would be evacuated of all heavy weapons and militants.
That agreement put on hold a Syrian government offensive to liberate Idlib, where between 10,000 and 15,000 militants are estimated to be holed up.
Militants, however, have persisted in their stay in the zone and refused to leave the area under the deal. Furthermore, terror outfits have repeatedly violated the truce by launching numerous attacks on outposts held by the Syrian army and Russian forces.
The Syrian foreign minister criticized Turkey for “occupying” parts of Syria, challenging Turkish “military presence in certain parts” of the Arab country.
“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,” Mualem added.
“Are they protecting the Nusra Front? Are they protecting certain terrorist forces,” he said. “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.”
Wang, for his part, voiced Beijing’s support for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its fight against terror, saying China would help with reconstruction efforts in the Arab country.
Muallem arrived in Beijing on Sunday for a six-day visit, which came at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart.
He was expected to discuss bilateral ties as well as the latest regional and international developments with senior Chinese officials, according to Syria’s official news agency SANA.
On Monday, the Syrian foreign minister held talks with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan.
China has said it would help with reconstruction efforts in Syria, which has seen massive destruction as a result of eight years of armed conflict.
Earlier in March, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodon held a meeting with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, where the two sides affirmed the need to bolster coordination between China and Damascus in “political, military, economic, cultural, and technological” fields.
Assad said some hostile powers were waging the new war against Syria by resorting to such methods as “boycotts, withdrawal of ambassadors, economic siege, and the use of terrorism”.
In a separate meeting with Chen, Muallem also suggested that China play a role in rebuilding Syria.
Assad, who has estimated that rebuilding Syria would cost 200 billion dollars at a minimum, has insisted he would refuse to take Western contributions.
In an interview with Russia’s NTV network in June last year, the Syrian president said the West “won’t be part of reconstruction in Syria, because very simply we won’t allow them to be part of it, whether they come with money or not.”
Assad also said in the same interview that Syria would not accept any Western money to help rebuild the country. “We have enough strength to rebuild the country. If we don’t have money, we will borrow from our friends, from Syrians living abroad.”