Syria: After Washington, before Tunis

Syria: After Washington, before Tunis

The developments regarding Syria have become less visible in Ankara, where the government is heavily preoccupied with an ongoing power struggle with the Fethullah Gülen community over the role of the intelligence service in the fight against terrorism.

However, some very remarkable steps were taken recently by the international community, especially after Russia and China blocked an initiative in the United Nations Security Council. 

The Arab League’s call for the formation of a Friends of Syria group at a Feb. 24 meeting in Tunisia; Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s key meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in Washington and, of course, ongoing violence claiming the lives of dozens of Syrian citizens (particularly in Homs) every day are keys in the current picture concerning neighboring Syria. 

With the full support he received from Washington, Davutoğlu will continue his phone conversations with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and senior Arab League officials upon his return home to discuss ways to provide humanitarian aid to Syria, as well as the format and the scope of the upcoming Friends of Syria meeting. 

In addition to the Friends of Syria initiative, Davutoğlu also hinted that the establishment of another platform is being considered by Syria’s neighbors to deal with the possible refugee influx to these countries particularly. 

He recalled that Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon have already been homes for fleeing Syrians and there was a need for a joint action to handle a possible influx. 

Nevertheless, the more difficult part is extending humanitarian help to the Syrians under siege by the Syrian army in towns like Homs, Zabadani and others. For the foreign ministers, the best way to reach these people is to establish humanitarian corridors, which require both the consent of Syria as the host country and the decision of the U.N. 

Of course the most important question here is who should secure this humanitarian corridor and on what legal ground such a decision would be taken. There are ideas floating around to get at least the U.N. General Assembly’s consent for such a move.

In this sense, the meeting of the Friends of Syria seems to be gaining more importance as Davutoğlu gives weight to it as the venue where the international community’s ethical and political responsibility regarding Syria will be seen.

The current strategy seems to be to force the Syrian leadership to open its doors to international relief groups to distribute aid to the people in need. If Syria rejects the calls, then the international community will have a stronger hand to convince the Russians and Chinese to get on board. “It will be a huge mistake and crime if the Syrian leadership attempts to block this initiative. Because this is humanitarian aid,” Davutoğlu said in an indirect threat to Damascus. 

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the Arab League, prominent European countries, Turkey and some countries in the region will be invited to the Feb. 24 meeting. It’s not yet certain whether Russia will take part in the meeting. In any case, this will be a historic meeting that will affect not only the history of the Middle East but also the lives of millions of Syrians.

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