Turkey must cultivate good relations with Israel if it wishes to assist Syria, President Bashar Assad said in an interview published in Turkish daily Hurriyet on Sunday.
For eight months, Ankara played a very important role as mediator in the most recent round of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, Assad was quoted as saying, referring to the negotiations that were held until the beginning of Operation Cast Lead last winter.
Israel is the only one that can take steps to keep the peace, Assad reportedly told the newspaper.
Assad went on to say that Turkey was twice the size of Syria, and part of Syria's land "is constantly occupied," in an apparent allusion to the Golan Heights.
The Syrian president also expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause, explaining that if the occupation continues, "people will react to it," alleging that Israel occupied territory and was killing off its original inhabitants.
Assad stressed that "no one in the region is in need of a nuclear bomb," explaining that Israel's nuclear arsenal stood in direct contrast to Iran's legitimate wish to acquire nuclear technology.
The interview centered not only on Middle East issues, but also on relations between the "multicultural societies" of the two secular countries - Turkey and Syria.
Contact with the "secular West" can be achieved without compromising a country's identity, suggested Assad. "Islam is in real people, not in their clothes," he said, adding that the purpose of all religions was to establish good relations between people.
The Syrian president also expressed his opposition to terrorist groups such as the Taliban, asserting that "there is no extremism in Islam," in its true form.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, accused Israel of committing much greater crimes during Operation Cast Lead than Sudan had committed in Darfur.
Erdogan said it would be easier to discuss state killings of civilians with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir than with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"I cannot discuss this with Netanyahu but I can easily discuss such issues with Omar al-Bashir. I can say to his face: What you are doing is wrong," Erdogan said.
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