Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim .jpg
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (2-L) at the scene after a bomb attack on a police bus in the Vezneciler district of Istanbul, Turkey, 08 June 2016.
Photograph: EPA/DENIZ TOPRAK

Turkey is interested in improving its relations with neighbouring Syria, Prime Minister Binali Yidirim said Wednesday, five years after the two countries cut ties over the civil war.

Turkey is a staunch backer of the Syrian opposition, including some armed rebel factions trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, with the government in Ankara repeatedly calling for his ouster.

Ankara recently mended fences with Moscow, after downing a Russian jet along the Syrian border last year, and also with Israel, with whom it had a fraught relationship for five years, largely over the situation in the Gaza Strip and an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla.

"We will expand our circle of friends... I am certain that we will return to normal relations with Syria. We need this," Yildirim said in Ankara, according to the state-run news agency Anadolu.

He added that stability in Iraq and Syria was vital to the war on terror.

Ankara has seen strains in its ties with Iraq, in part over the stationing of Turkish troops in the country, angering Baghdad, an ally of Iran, which is also a key supporter of al-Assad.

There have been reports of back-door channels between Ankara and Damascus, which have been downplayed by Turkish government officials who say al-Assad has killed his own people and lost the right to rule.

A Turkish government official insisted "there is no policy change," and that Yildirim in his remarks was not pushing for an immediate reconciliation.

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