By Rim Haddad
Agence France Presse
October 14, 2009
ALEPPO, Syria: Turkey boosted its ties with Syria on Tuesday at the first meeting of a newly formed cooperation council, only days after Ankara’s relations with Damascus foe Israel took a downturn. The foreign, defense, interior, economy, oil, electricity, agriculture and health ministers of the two countries attended the strategic talks in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
Their agenda called for a series of meetings between respective ministers in their fields and the signing of diplomatic and economic agreements.
The foreign ministers signed a deal on scrapping visa requirements for each other’s nationals.
Turkish-Syrian relations have improved after decades of mistrust based on Ankara’s accusations that Damascus supported Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told a news conference with Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu that Damascus regarded the PKK as a “terrorist organization banned” in his country.
Turkey’s ties with Israel took a turn for the worse on Sunday when Israel announced Ankara had decided to exclude it 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.
On Tuesday, Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom urged Turkey “to come to its senses” following the spike in tensions between the two allies.
“Turkey is an important Muslim state sharing strategic ties with Israel. I hope the Turks come to their senses and realize that the relationship between the two states is in their interest no less than ours,” he said.
“The deterioration of ties with Turkey in recent days is regrettable,” Shalom said.
In contrast,Moallem said “it is natural that we would welcome” Ankara’s decision to exclude Israel from the maneuvers.
“The Turkish decision was taken because of Turkey’s position toward the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip” between last 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, Moallem added.
Syria and Israel began indirect peace talks through Turkey in May 2008.
But they were suspended last December after Israel launched a 22-day war on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
In Aleppo, Davutoglu underlined the importance of the Aleppo meeting for the two Muslim neighbors. “Turkey is the gateway for Syria to Europe just as Syria is the gateway for Turkey to the Arab world.” – AFP