Assad opponents in Syria protest Turkish 'reconciliation' call

A demonstrator gestures during a protest against Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's comments on reconciliation of the opposition with the Syrian government, in the rebel-held city of Azaz, Syria August 12, 2022. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Thousands of people staged protests across parts of rebel-held northern Syria Friday after Turkey's foreign minister called for reconciliation between Syrian opposition groups backed by Ankara and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

More than 11 years after civil war broke out in Syria, the northwest near the Turkish border is the last area still in the hands of fighters seeking to topple Assad, with control divided between jihadist factions and other rebels backed by Turkey.

The Turkish government maintains thousands of troops in the area and backs a coalition of armed groups opposed to Assad under the banner of the Syrian National Army (SNA).

"We need to bring the opposition and regime together for reconciliation somehow, there will be no permanent peace otherwise," Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara on Thursday.

After he spoke, protests began in parts of rebel-held Syria, with people carrying opposition flags through the streets on Thursday evening and pulling Turkish flags from buildings including police stations and local administration offices.

"We have suffered under this criminal for 11 years and we will continue with our revolution," Mahmoud Salo, a 45-year-old teacher told Reuters at a protest in Azaz, Idlib on Friday.

Around 3,000 people gathered in Azaz on Friday while protests were also held in other parts of the northwestern Idlib province and in northern parts of neighbouring Aleppo province.

Many Turkish advisors who work at a number of local institutions did not show up for work on Friday, a Reuters correspondent in the area said.

Ahmad Shawbak, a refugee from Aleppo working as an engineer in Azaz, said Cavusoglu's comments were unacceptable.

"If Turkey wants to stand with the world that is already against us, let it be, it won't change much," Shawbak said. "But we hope that Turkey's stance becomes more positive."

(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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