UPDATES WITH CAVUSOGLU-AOUN MEETING
By Gozde Bayar and Mahmut Geldi
ANKARA/BEIRUT, Lebanon (AA) – Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have gone home to parts of Syria cleared of terrorist groups by cross-border Turkish military operations, said the nation's foreign minister on Friday.
“More than 346,000 Syrians have returned to areas of Syria which were cleared of terrorists in Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint press conference in Lebanon alongside his Lebanese counterpart Gebran Bassil, referring to Turkish operations since 2016.
Speaking to reporters in the Lebanese capital Beirut, where he is paying an official visit, Cavusoglu touched on the voluntary return of Syrian refugees to their country.
He said Turkey can share its experience with Lebanon on how to provide security to Syrian refugees when they return to their motherland.
Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any country in the world. Lebanon, with 1.5 million, is second.
Since 2016, Turkey’s Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in northern Syria have liberated regions including Al-Bab, Afrin, and Azaz from YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists, making it possible for Syrians who fled the violence there to return home.
Cavusoglu also met with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun in the Beiteddine Palace near the country's capital.
In addition to bilateral relations and regional issues, Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were also discussed at the meeting, according to diplomatic sources.
Aoun said the roughly 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon should return to Syria, though aid should continue to be delivered to them after they arrived in their homeland
The two countries also underlined that they shared the same stance on the issue of Palestine.
"We’ve conveyed our President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s greetings to President Michel Aoun. We stressed the importance of brotherly Lebanon’s security and stability for our region. We discussed Syria, Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean," Cavusoglu said on Twitter after the meeting.
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced in the conflict, mainly by regime airstrikes targeting opposition-held areas.