Buffer zone for Syria not on agenda of Turkey

Buffer zone for Syria not on agenda of Turkey

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Buffer zone for Syria not on agenda of Turkey

Syrian refugees hide their face as they arrive near the border between Syria and Turkey at Reyhanlı in Turkey’s southeastern province of Hatay on March 15. Turkey hosts 14.723 Syrian refugees as of March 16, according to Turkish officials. AFP photo

Turkey does not plan to establish a buffer zone for refugees on the Syrian side of its border with the Arab republic unless there is a United Nations initiative to do so, senior officials told the Hürriyet Daily News March 16.

The news came after Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay announced that Turkey was preparing to establish a buffer zone in order to host refugees fleeing clashes in Syria. The head of the Turkish Red Crescent also said Ankara was laying plans to host upward of 500,000 possible refugees.

Turkey also called on its citizens to leave Syria amid hints by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Ankara was considering cutting ties with Damascus.

“We are considering all options, including the withdrawal of our ambassador,” Erdoğan said. Turkey announced March 16 the end of consular services in Damascus. 

Erdoğan also said Turkey was eager to see results at the next Friends of Syria meeting, which will be hosted April 2 in Istanbul.

Turkey calls citizens back halts consular services

Turkey has suspended consular services in Damascus and “strongly” urged Turkish nationals to return home, with the Turkish Prime Minister saying that the withdrawal of the ambassador and the creation of a “buffer zone” are among measures that Ankara is considering in the crisis.

Turkey was considering establishing a “safe zone” for humanitarian concerns on the Syrian side of the border, in case the influx of refugees exceeds 50,000 people, the Daily News has learned. The Turkish government has set up new camps to shelter up to a total of 45,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. Ankara anticipates the exodus of Syrian refugees to exceed this figure if unrest rises in the city of Aleppo.
Turkey halted its consular service in Damascus due to security concerns, but is keeping open its consulate in Aleppo, a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said yesterday.

“Developments in Syria pose serious security risks for our nationals. Therefore, we strongly recommend our nationals residing in Syria return home,” the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement. Consular services in Damascus would be halted as of 17:00 on March 22, the ministry said, adding that its consulate in Aleppo would “carry on its services in current circumstances.”

Suspending the consulate in Damascus was not a political reaction to the Syrian regime, but a security measure, a Turkish official told the Daily News.

Turkey was also considering recalling its ambassador in Damascus and establishing a buffer or safe zone inside Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters yesterday. 

“We are considering all these options, including the withdrawal of our ambassador and our citizens there,” Erdoğan said.

The prime minister added that the U.S. and Russia were working on a text for Syria. “We will see what will be the content of the text. We also have work on that,” he added.

Referring to the “Friends of Syria” group meeting that is to take place in Istanbul on April 2. Erdoğan stressed that Turkey was aiming the meeting to get results. “I believe the Istanbul meeting will create different results for the future,” he said.

Some 1,250 refugees have fled into Turkey from northern Syria in the last 48 hours, escaping an army onslaught in the frontier Idlib province. 

Meanwhile, there was still no formal confirmation from the Syrian authorities on the missing Turkish journalists, Turkish officials told the Hürriyet Daily News. 

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ charged that “the journalists could not have been abducted without the knowledge of the Syrian administration” and warned that Turkey would not allow “a single Turkish citizen to be harmed or put into trouble there.” 

Bozdağ said Turkey had made necessary calls to the Syrian administration to illuminate and resolve the incident.

“For al-Assad’s part, maybe the lives of his citizens are not so important, but we don’t let even one of our citizens get so much as a nosebleed,” he said, adding that he was expecting the journalists to be handed over to Turkey soon.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said late March 15 that a Turkish truck driver Hasan Koçak had died in a traffic accident in Syria near Aleppo and that his body had been brought back to Turkey.

The six Arab Gulf states, namely United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are also set to close their embassies in Syria in protest at the year-long violence in the country, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) head Abdellatif al-Zayani said on March 15.