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Head of Turkish intelligence talked to Syrian counterpart about return of refugees: report

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Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), met with his Syrian counterpart, Ali Mamlouk, in Syria and discussed the return home of Syrians who have taken refuge in Turkey, the online newspaper Gazete Pencere reported on Thursday.

Gazete Pencere said Fidan met with Mamlouk to find a solution to Turkey’s Syrian refugee issue, one of the reasons for the decline in support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of the 2023 elections, asking for steps to be taken that would facilitate their return.

The Syrian side laid down the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria as a condition for negotiating the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey, according to Gazete Pencere.

The country is today home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees who fled after the civil war broke out in 2011 in its southern neighbor.

The claims of the meeting come a week after French intelligence website Intelligence Online reported that the heads of Turkish and Syrian intelligence had held a meeting through the mediation of Russia.

Although Intelligence Online didn’t say whether Fidan and Mamlouk held the meeting in person or online, it reported “unsatisfactory” results of the meeting, noting that it “at least allowed the two sides to determine their demands and present their terms to each other.”

Turkish media reports also said, citing the Arabic service of Russian news agency Sputnik, that MİT agents talked to the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SMDK) and asked Syrian dissidents in Turkey to leave the country by the end of the year at the latest, in line with a decision given by Ankara amid a process of reconciliation with the Syrian government.

The reports further said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also decided to “close all offices of the Syrian opposition” in the country and “end Turkey’s financial support” to them. It was noted that MİT told the dissidents to “find another place to stay” and “stop media and political activities” in Turkey.

Turkey has strongly opposed Syrian Bashar al-Assad throughout the 11-year civil war and backed some rebel groups.

But Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu revealed in August that he had briefly met with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Meqdad, in Belgrade last October — the first such meeting reported since 2011. Çavuşoğlu also reaffirmed Turkey’s call for the Syrian opposition to reconcile with Assad’s government.

In a move that sharply contradicted his earlier stance against al-Assad, Erdoğan said in a statement last month that Turkey needs to take “further steps” in a newly announced process of reconciliation with the Syrian government to end the “games” being played in the region.

The president also denied that Turkey had sought the removal of Assad.

“There was a fight against terrorism in all the steps we have taken in Syria,” he said, adding that they have no designs on Syria and respect its territorial integrity.

Erdoğan also noted that the Turkish government hosts millions of Syrian refugees because of its ties to the Syrian people, especially in terms of religious values, and not because they want to be “constantly at war with the regime.”

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