19:19 GMT27 February 2021
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    Turkey has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign on a number of occasions, claiming he is unsuitable to lead the country. However there has seemingly been some progress in improving bilateral relations with Syria in recent months, as indicated by Ankara's engagement in the Sochi process.

    Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Akdağ said Wednesday that Bashar al-Assad has no place in Syrian politics, claiming he was responsible for the ongoing suffering of many Syrians – an accusation which the Syrian government has denied, insisting that the Syrian Army and other government forces are simply fighting terrorist groups to protects Syria’s existence as a democratic, secular state.

    READ MORE: West Continues to Underestimate Support for Assad in Syria – UK Shadow FM

    "A free and democratic Syria can only be built without [Bashar] Assad. He has killed many of his fellow citizens and brought much suffering to his country," Deputy PM Akdağ on May 16, as cited by Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper.

    With regards to Ankara’s plans for Afrin – a part of northwestern Syria which the Turkish Army seized via operation Olive Branch, as ordered by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in January – the deputy PM said they will hand the territory over to the “local population,” not the Syrian Army or other forces of the Syrian government.

    "We want to give Afrin back to the local population, who should be there to decide for themselves. A local Afrin council has been set up, which is a decision-making body with local representatives. Therein also Kurds sit," he added.

    Prior to Akdağ’s comments, relations between Damascus and Ankara were seemingly improving, with Turkey jointly working with both Iran and Russia via the Sochi process to reach a political solution to the Syria crisis.

    It’s unclear if the deputy PM’s statement is representative of the wider Turkish government.

    In any case, Ankara will almost certainly have to establish some level of communication and ties with Damascus once the war winds down, to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees living in Turkey and to bolster bilateral trade, among other matters.

    READ MORE: 'Turkey's Soldiers Ready for New Missions': Erdogan Vows New Ops in Syria


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