ANKARA Ņ Turkey intends to bolster security cooperation with Syria
in wake of the extradition of 22 suspected insurgents by Damascus to Ankara.
Turkish officials said they have scheduled a series of high-level talks
over the next few weeks that could culminate in a summit between Syrian
President Bashar Assad and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan in Ankara next
The two countries plan to discuss bolstering cooperation in border
security as well as in the war against Al Qaida and their related groups.
Officials said Turkey wants Syria to increase cooperation in protecting
their border area from Kurdish insurgents based in northern Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.
Officials said the commander of the Turkish National Border Guards, Gen.
Cener Araigor, will arrive in Damascus for a two-day visit next week. The
semi-official Anatolia news agency said Araigor will meet senior Syrian
commander and officials in an effort to intensify cooperation to combat Al
Qaida and what the agency termed šinternational terrorism.
The Araigor visit has been preceded by that of Turkish
parliamentarians to Damascus. A six-member parliamentary delegation has
arrived in Damascus to formally thank Assad for cooperating in the
capture of suspects in the November Al Qaida attacks in Turkey.
Officials said Syrian authorities acted quickly after a request by
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to his counterpart, Farouk A-Shaara.
Last week, the Assad regime handed over 22 Turkish nationals who escaped to
Syria in wake of the Al Qaida suicide attacks in Istanbul in which nearly
100 people were killed. The Turks included two key suspects in the bombings
of two synagogues in Istanbul on Nov. 15.
"Both Iran and Syria, at least recently, have been cooperating with
Turkey on the issue of terrorism," Gul said. "We hope this continues."
This was the first time the extradition portion of the Syrian-Turkish
accord has been implemented by the Assad regime, officials said. They said
Damascus handed over the Turkish nationals, including a specific fugitive
linked to the Al Qaida attacks, within three days of Gul's request for
Officials said Assad has relayed his acceptance of an invitation to
visit Turkey in early 2004. This would mark the first visit by a Syrian
president to Ankara and culminate two years of Turkish efforts to bring
Assad to the country.
Syria and Turkey have improved their military and security relations
since nearly coming to blow in 1998 amid Ankara's demand for Damascus to
extradite PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Turkish officials said the Erdogan
government still wants Syria to close its border to PKK insurgents coming
from northern Iraq for safe haven. About 5,000 PKK members are believed in
northern Iraq, with many of them shuttling between that area and Syria.