Syria sectarian spill worries Turkey, Iran

Syria sectarian spill worries Turkey, Iran

Syria sectarian spill worries Turkey, Iran

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif attended a meeting in Istanbul Nov 1. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Turkey and Iran said Nov. 1 they had common concerns about the increasingly sectarian nature of Syria’s civil war.

“Sitting here together with the Iranian foreign minister, you can be sure we will be working together to fight these types of scenarios which aim to see a sectarian conflict,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told a conference in Istanbul on Nov. 1.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who held talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gül in Istanbul and met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, echoed the comments, saying sectarian unrest posed an even greater risk than the use of chemical weapons.

“I believe sectarian conflict is even a greater threat, and it is not confined to one region,” Zarif said. “If the flames of sectarianism rage in the Middle East, you will see the results in the streets of London, New York, Rome and Madrid,” he told the conference.

Still, Zarif described the existence of weapons of mass destruction as “a great threat.” “The greatest threat against humanity is the continuation of the existence of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The elimination of these weapons should be our ultimate goal, ultimate aim,” Zarif said.

The civil war has already acquired sectarian dimensions that have pulled in neighboring countries, including Lebanon and Iraq. More than 14 people died in Lebanon in one week in fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese army. In Iraq, much of the violence has been attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda front group opposed to Iraq’s Shiite-led government that has carried out attacks in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

While deep divisions remain between Ankara and Tehran over the conflict in Syria, particularly over the role of al-Assad in any transitional government, diplomats and government officials say both sides want to mend a relationship which could be key to wider diplomatic efforts toward a solution.

“Both Iran and Turkey are at a point where they think they can work together on Syria,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters. “Both countries believe the situation needs an urgent solution. But the big question is how.”

Meanwhile, on the ground Israeli warplanes attacked a shipment of Russian missiles inside a Syrian government stronghold, officials said Oct. 31, a development that threatened to add another explosive layer to regional tensions from the Syrian civil war.

A Barack Obama administration official confirmed the Israeli airstrike overnight, but provided no details. Another security official said the attack occurred late Oct. 30 in the Syrian port city of Latakia and that the target was Russian-made SA-125 missiles.

Since the civil war in Syria began in March 2011, Israel has carefully avoided taking sides, but has struck shipments of missiles inside Syria at least twice this year. Israel has repeatedly declared a series of red lines that could trigger Israeli military intervention, including the delivery of “game-changing” weapons to the Syrian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group.

In January, an Israeli airstrike in Syria destroyed a shipment of advanced anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, according to U.S. officials. And in May, it was said to have acted again, taking out a shipment of Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles at a Damascus airport.

Meanwhile, the U.N. food aid agency said Nov. 1 that it feared a rise in malnutrition among children trapped in besieged communities in Syria where fighting has halted supply convoys. “The World Food Programme is concerned about the fate of many Syrians trapped in conflict areas and still in need of urgent food assistance,” spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva. “We are monitoring worrying reports emerging of malnutrition among children in besieged areas.”

The WFP works with Syria’s Red Crescent to distribute aid supplies, but teams have been unable to reach 38 different locations since mid-2012, notably around the capital Damascus, Byrs said. The WFP provided food assistance to 2.7 million in September and a record 3.3 million last month, though it was still 700,000 short of its target.