13:58 GMT27 September 2020
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    On Saturday, militants of the Ahrar al-Sham Islamist coalition shot down a MiG-23 fighter jet of the Syrian Air Force. Debris of the plane was found near the Turkish border with Syria.

    The pilot managed to eject and landed on the Turkish side of the border. He was found by a rescue team and admitted to a local state hospital in the province of Hatay.

    The news comes amid a nationwide ceasefire in Syria between Damascus and Syrian rebels that came into force on December 30, and has been holding up in general, despite continued reports of violations.

    Later, Ankara said that it would announce in the coming days whether it would handover the captured pilot to Syria.

    "The pilot's treatment is continuing right now. A decision would be made after the whole event is clarified," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli told reporters, adding the decision would be made soon.

    A positive decision by the Turkish government would become the first step in normalization between Ankara and Damascus, according to Ismail Hakki Pekin, former chief of the Turkish General Staff Intelligence Department.

    "Turkey and Syria are not at war. Turkey is supporting the Syrian opposition, but it is not fighting against the Syrian government. If the countries were at war the return of the pilot would be very complicated. But since Ankara and Damascus are not at war I don’t think there will any difficulties in the issue," Pekin said in an interview with Sputnik Turkey.

    He underscored that negotiations are necessary before the pilot can be returned home, but the problem is that Ankara and Damascus do not have diplomatic ties.

    "Probably, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement could be involved in the process. Maybe, Russia may also be engaged as a mediator. Maybe, Syria will send a direct official request, but this could be problematic since Turkey and Syria do not have diplomatic relations. However, Turkey may also refuse to hand over the pilot, interrogate him and then expel from the country," Pekin suggested.

    The expert noted that the pilot did not commit any crime because he was on a combat mission in his country.

    "From this point of view, Russia and Iran could be mediators between Ankara and Damascus," Pekin added.

    "The return of the pilot to Syria would become a major step in normalization between Turkey and Syria. This could lay the groundwork for the bilateral normalization process," he said.

    Recently, it was reported that units of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) handed over control over parts of the area near Manbij to the Syrian Army.

    "For Turkey, this is a positive moment. In this context, the return of the pilot could significantly contribute to developing ties between Ankara and Damascus," Pekin said.

    The expert emphasized the importance of cooperation between the two countries.

    "Ankara and Damascus should establish on cooperation first on Manbij and then on the Kurdish problem. This could help the Syrian Army strengthen control over the Turkish-Syrian border and over the border region. Thus, Turkey could resolve the Kurdish problem diplomatically, without military force," Pekin concluded. 


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    diplomatic ties, Kurds, military conflict, Syria, Turkey
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