The governments of Turkey and Syria which have been in hostile conflict with each other since a civil war erupted in the latter in 2011 have been having covert contact during the period of hostilities, Turkish officials revealed.
Reuters reported the revelation on Monday, citing confidential knowledgeable Turkish security officials.
“We have been in contact with Syria on military and intelligence issues for some time in order to avoid any problems on the field,” an unnamed official told Reuters.
The remarks came after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu voiced the issue between the two countries last week.
“When it is necessary, there are of course contacts with Syria on intelligence, information sharing, and other things. There is no contact whatsoever on a political level,” Cavusoglu said.
Ankara, together with its rebel allies fighting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, initiated an incursion on October 9 against the Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey deems the YPG as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) waging a separatist insurgency within the country since 1984.
With the incursion, Turkey eyes to form a proposed “safe zone” in the region where he plans to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
Being wary of cutting all communication channels in between, both countries had set up some, direct military and intelligence contacts in addition to indirect ones through Russia, a Syria ally.
By doing so, the two sides aim at reducing the risk of confrontation, the officials said.
Providing detail on the issue, one of the officials said the first contact occurred when Russia-backed Syrian attacks were launched in April in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in northwest Syria where Turkish troops were also deployed.
“Contact with Syria has largely been through Russia, but this communication was done directly between Turkey and Syria at times to avoid Syrian and Turkish soldiers engaging in direct confrontation,” the official said.
The contact-related remarks have further surfaced the political changes within Ankara and the shift in its position against the al-Assad regime.
At the beginning of the civil war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first called for al-Assad’s ousting but has since shifted his priority to prevent a mass influx of refugees from Idlib in Syria’s northwest. This has made al-Assad’s position to look gradually secure.
In its new stance, Turkey wants free elections in Syria under monitoring by the United Nations (UN), agreeing to work with anyone to be elected in a fair election.
Last week, Erdogan said he would accept al-Assad’s forces entering Manbij, which is located within Turkey’s planned “safe zone”, as long as the YPG forces were removed.