Ankara attempts to silence observers who say it is arming Syrian opposition militants, claiming to have seized arms destined for the Arab republic
Hundreds of rifles, shotguns and bullets that were to be sent from Turkey to violence-plagued Syria have been seized over the last month by Turkish security forces, Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı said yesterday.
Yazıcı’s statements came in response to national and international criticism on Turkey’s “reluctance” to control the arms flow to Syria and the accusation that Turkey is responsible for supplying arms to Syrian rebels.
Some 110 air guns, 51 shotguns, 86 rifle scopes, 86 rifle clips, 104 gun clips and 50,375 bullets were seized in five operations conducted in the last week of January, Yazıcı told daily Hürriyet.
Cars searched in the operation all carried Syrian plates.
There was a significant increase in the number of seized arms compared to 2012. A total of 16 shotguns, four automatic rifles, five hunting rifles, two grenades and 2,186 bullets were captured at the Syrian border last year, according to official data provided by Yazıcı.
Refuting claims that Turkey was arming the opposition to Damascus, Yazıcı said Turkey had been conducting controls on all 10 border gates to stop illegal arms-trafficking in the region and had been taking necessary measures to protect Turkish citizens’ lives and provide humanitarian help to the Syrian people, “who are under attack from the Bashar al-Assad regime.”
Questions regarding the controls of the gates were raised after a deadly blast at the Turkish border gate of Cilvegözü on Feb. 11 killed 14 civilians and wounded around 30 others.
Nearly 15 vehicles, some of them carrying humanitarian aid to the Syrians affected by the ongoing civil war in the country, were also damaged in the blast.
“Turkish citizens and Turkish-plated vehicles are forbidden to cross the Syrian border,” Yazıcı said in a televised interview with the private broadcaster CNNTürk yesterday.
However, the gates are wide open to Syrian people who are in need of humanitarian help, Yazıcı said.
He also revealed some details of the van used in the blast and the security measures in the area taken after the blast.
The Free Syrian Army’s control of the gates has created a lack of security, Yazıcı said, adding that Turkey was in control of 2,400 square meters of the 2,900-square-meter field between the Turkish custom complex and the Syrian border gate.
According to the minister, the $2.5 billion trade capacity between Turkey and Syria has fallen to $560 million since the civil war began in the country.
“Syrian people meet their needs from our country somehow, but it’s seen as arms-trafficking by some others,” he said. “But when we look at these numbers, we see that customs authority works really hard.”