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Turkey and the Arab countries of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon have decided to establish a cooperation council to create “a zone of free movement of goods and persons” among them.

They invite all other interested countries to join what Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to the European Union.

Mr. Davutoglu said Turkey is still eager to join the EU but that the bloc “cannot and should not restrict [Turkey’s] relations with its neighbors.”

The deal was signed Thursday during the Turkish-Arab Economic Forum, where officials from Arab nations burst into applause as Turkey’s prime minister walked to the podium. Turkey’s popularity in the Middle East has risen amid disputes over Israel’s Gaza blockade and United Nations sanctions against Iran. WSJ

Photo: Foreign Ministers Ali al-Shami of Lebanon (L) , Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey (C) and Walid Moallem of Syria

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