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Turkey PM Yildirim hints at mending ties with Syria

Turkey has said it wants to re-establish good relations with Syria - in an apparent reversal of its policy towards its war-stricken neighbour.

Up to now Turkey's government has been pressing hard for the overthrow of the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

But Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim insisted good ties with Syria were needed "for the fight against terrorism" and stability in the region.

There has so far been no public response from the Syrian government.

Turkey has recently moved to end rifts with both Russia and Israel.

'Greatest and irrevocable goal'

Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Syria were severed after the uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011.

Turkey is a key backer of both the political and armed Syrian opposition and has faced the burden of hosting more than 2.7 million refugees.

In December, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged that Mr Assad had "mercilessly killed 400,000 innocent people".

But in comments broadcast live on television on Wednesday, Mr Yildirim said: "It is our greatest and irrevocable goal: developing good relations with Syria and Iraq, and all our neighbours that surround the Mediterranean and the Black Sea."

"We normalised relations with Russia and Israel. I'm sure we will normalise relations with Syria as well. For the fight against terrorism to succeed, stability needs to return to Syria and Iraq."

There have also been reports in the local media of Turkish and Syrian diplomats holding talks.

But in an interview with BBC HARDtalk, Mr Yildirim stressed that any shift in Turkey's policy towards Syria was dependent on Mr Assad.

"Things need to change in Syria, but first of all Assad should change. Unless Assad changes, nothing changes in Turkey," he said.

Mr Yildirim accused the Syrian leader of creating the conditions that gave rise to the jihadist group, Islamic State (IS), which controls large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

"As long as Assad is there, the problem won't be solved," he said. "We'll have some other terrorist organisation coming up because it's the attitude of the Syrian regime which created [IS]."

Last month, Turkey normalised relations with Israel, ending a six-year rift over the killing by Israeli troops of 10 Turkish activists on a ship carrying aid for the Gaza Strip.

On the same day, Mr Erdogan apologised to Russia for shooting down a Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015.

Turkey's new initiative comes at a time of great political instability in the country, says the BBC's Katy Watson in Istanbul.

In the past year, it has been hit by a wave of deadly bombings blamed on Kurdish rebels and IS.

In a separate development, French diplomatic missions in Turkey cancelled their Bastille Day celebrations on Thursday for "security reasons", the consulate general in Istanbul said.