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Turkey says Lebanon’s Hezbollah should leave Syria

Iran to monitor and guarantee compliance of Shiite militant groups in final ceasefire agreement brokered by Ankara, Moscow

Hezbollah parading its military equipment in Qusayr, Syria, November 2016. (Twitter)
Hezbollah parading its military equipment in Qusayr, Syria, November 2016. (Twitter)

Turkey says the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support President Bashar Assad, should withdraw from Syria.

In an interview with Turkey’s A Haber news channel on Thursday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said Turkey and Russia are close to reaching an agreement on a nationwide Syrian cease-fire that would come into effect by the end of the year. The nationwide truce was later confirmed, and was set to go into effect at midnight on Friday.

“We are planning to secure this before the beginning of the New Year,” he said, adding it was the “will of the leaders” for this to happen.

Turkey would serve as guarantor of rebel compliance, while Russia would guarantee adherence by the government.

According to Cavusoglu, Iran stated during talks earlier this month in Moscow that it will act as a guarantor for the Syrian government as well as allied Shiite groups, including Hezbollah.

Cavusoglu said that if the ceasefire was successful, political negotiations between the Assad regime and the opposition would take place in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks at a press conference in Ankara, on June 22, 2016. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks at a press conference in Ankara, on June 22, 2016. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

But he insisted the Astana talks, overseen by Turkey and Russia, were not a rival to UN-backed talks that have been taking place on-and-off in Geneva in recent years.

“This is not an alternative to Geneva. It is a complementary step,” said Cavusoglu.

“The talks in Astana will be under our supervision,” he said, adding which groups will take part remains under discussion.

He said Ankara and Moscow continued intensive efforts to secure the ceasefire.

Although Moscow and Ankara are on opposite sides in the civil war with Russia supporting Assad and Turkey calling for him to go, they have begun in the last few months to work closely on Syria.

Relations between Ankara and Moscow were normalized in June after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border in November 2015.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from Aleppo after a ceasefire earlier this month brokered by Ankara and Moscow.

Meanwhile, Turkey stood conspicuously quiet as the regime, supported by Russia, took control last week of Aleppo, dealing the biggest defeat for the rebels in the civil war so far.

But Cavusoglu said it was “out of the question” for Turkey to hold any talks with Assad.

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