Turkey opposition leader Kilicdaroglu sends 'condolence letter' to Syrian regime's Assad, following earthquake
The head of Turkey's main opposition party on Thursday sent a condolence letter to Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad, in the aftermath of the the February 6 earthquake, saying he "felt the pain" of the Syrian lives lost.
The rare communication from Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who may emerge as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's rival in the country's upcoming election, came after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 49,000 people and leaving millions homeless.
"As this disaster and the pain we have experienced show once again, we are partners and neighbours in our grief, we share the common pain of our peoples," Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's Republican People's Party (CHP), said.
"Therefore, I take this opportunity to express my condolences to you and your people and hope that we will not share our sorrows but our hopes in the future".
There has been no regular contact between the main Turkish opposition and Assad, but Kilicdaroglu has urged Erdogan "not to pick a fight" with Syria and CHP officials have called on the government to open a dialogue with Damascus.
After providing military and political support to the Syrian opposition rebels fighting Assad for over a decade and sending Turkish troops into swathes of northern Syria, Erdogan in early January said he might meet the Syrian president, despite cutting diplomatic ties with him, and labelling him "a murderer".
Meanwhile, Assad has carried out violent, years-long crackdowns on Syrian civilians, killing at least 500,000 and displacing millions more.
The defence ministers of the two countries met late last year for the highest-level talks between the two foes since the Syrian war began in 2011.
Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have become increasingly subjected to discrimination, xenophobia and racism, and have often been blamed for Ankara's economic woes.
Erdogan has said that he wants to return scores of refugees back to Syria, though the forcible return of refugees - also called 'refoulement' - is deemed illegal under international law.
Many Syrians say that they fear torture and abuse under Assad, should they return.
In mid-January, Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said Turkey would have to end its military presence in his country to achieve a full rapprochement.