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Egypt slams Turkish role in Syria

Egypt has recently condemned Turkey’s role in Syria, which prompted condemnation on the part of Ankara, fueling the already existing tensions between the two countries.
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Sameh Shoukry,  Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, listens during a UN Security Council meeting concerning nuclear non-proliferation, during the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 21, 2017 in New York City. The most pressing issues facing the assembly this year include North KoreaÕs nuclear ambitions, violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, and the debate over climate change. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

CAIRO — Turkey condemned Oct. 15 the comments of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry regarding Ankara’s role in Syria, stressing that its military presence in the country not only aims at protecting its national security, but also ensures the Syrian territories’ sovereignty and unity. 

The spokesman for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hami Aksoy said in a statement, “These accusations are made up of delusions, which cannot be taken seriously whereas our country had martyrs in the fight against terrorism in Syria, embraced almost 4 million Syrians, protects the people from a cruel regime and terrorists in the north of Syria, and has made concrete contributions to the political process both in Geneva and within the Astana platform.”

During a virtual meeting Oct. 22 of the foreign ministers of the Small Group on Syria, Shoukry had said that the Turkish presence in Syria does not only constitute a threat for Syria alone, but it also seriously harms the whole region. Any plans to flare up extremism and transfer foreign terrorist fighters must not be tolerated, he added.

Tensions have already been high between Egypt and Turkey due to Egypt's condemnation of the Turkish violations in the eastern Mediterranean region, as Turkey insists on drilling for gas in the Mediterranean near the borders of Greece and Cyprus (riparian countries with Egypt). Meanwhile, Turkish forces and armed militias are deployed on the Libyan lands (bordering Egypt from the west) to support the forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj in their fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by military strongman Khalifa Haftar who is backed by Egypt.

Tarek Fahmy, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “Shoukry’s statements regarding the Turkish intervention in Syria are not new, and they are in line with previous Egyptian stances that have always rejected any regional or other interventions in Syria.

Fahmy added, “Shoukry’s statements confirm two things: First, Egypt is keen on condemning the Turkish moves — whether in Libya, Syria or Iraq — and its intervention in the eastern Mediterranean. Second, the scope of disagreement and disputes between Egypt and Turkey has extended and now includes Syria.”

In a press statement July 3, Egypt condemned “the continuing Turkish violations” of Iraqi sovereignty — in reference to the Turkish military attacks in northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers Party — and claimed that Turkey was hiding behind “flimsy national security claims.” ​​The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed these condemnations in a press statement July 4 as “black comedy.”

Fahmy ruled out that the recent statements between the two countries regarding Syria would stir an escalation of tensions between them, saying, “Tensions still exist despite Turkey’s recent attempts to bring Cairo and Ankara closer and its insinuations to communication and meetings between officials in the two countries. In fact, relations are still troubled between the two countries.”

On Sept. 18, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his country’s readiness to hold a dialogue with Egypt. Erdogan said in press statements carried by Al-Arabiya website, “We do not mind a dialogue with Egypt. Conducting intelligence talks with Egypt is different and possible, and we have no problem with it.”

Former Assistant Foreign Minister Mohamed Hijazi told Al-Monitor over the phone that Shoukry’s statements exposed Turkey, which is transferring armed militias from one place to another openly and claiming to protect Syria’s national security, which is only the business of Syria and its leaders. He noted that Turkey is at odds with several parties in the region — the LNA in Libya; Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean; and its Arab neighbors in Syria and Iraq. Hijazi also mentioned Turkey’s clear support for Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

He argued, “Turkish interventions in Arab states are internationally denounced. Shoukry’s comments pointed to Turkey’s inclination to interfere in the affairs of countries in a blatant manner and aimed at letting the world know about the dangers of this intervention, which violates the rules of good neighborliness between countries.” He cited Egypt's role in defining the Sirte-Jufra line in Libya as a red line for Turkey, “which was one of the reasons [that pushed for] the cease-fire in Libya and [that mobilized] support for the political track.”

On June 20, while inspecting a military air base in the west, near the border with Libya, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi threatened to militarily intervene in Libya should Turkey continue its violations. Erdogan condemned July 17 the statements, saying such intervention would be “illegitimate.”

Former head of the Institute of Arab Research and Studies Ahmed Youssef Ahmed told Al-Monitor over the phone that the Egyptian position toward Turkish interventions in Syria has been consistent since the beginning of the crisis, and Egypt is trying to defend the security of Arab countries from the aggressive Turkish policy on all fronts.

He said that the tensions never subsided to begin with.

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