Turkey looks to unite divided dissidents

Turkey looks to unite divided dissidents

Turkey looks to unite divided dissidents

Members of the 'Free Syrian Army' hold their weapons in Sermin, in the restive northern Syrian Idlib province on March 18, 2012. AFP Photo

Turkey is redoubling its efforts to unite Syria’s fractured opposition ahead of the prime minister’s visit to Iran and the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul next month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said yesterday.

There will be “tight contact traffic as efforts continue to extend the Syrian National Council and to strengthen the social base,” Davutoğlu said, noting Ankara’s tight schedule, which revolves around an upcoming Arab League summit, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Iran, and the Friends of Syria meeting.

Turkey is also working “day and night” to locate and secure the return of two missing Turkish journalists in Syria, he said at a joint press conference with his Moroccan counterpart, Saad-Eddine al-Othmani.

Turkey has asked Syria to locate Adem Özköse from Milat newspaper and freelance cameraman Hamit Coşkun and ensure their safe return home, said Hüseyin Çelik, a deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). “But we have not yet received a reply.”

The pair was last heard from on March 11 when they called Milat from the northern Syrian city of Idlib.

In Ankara main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu appealed to Damascus to free Özköse and Coşkun without any conditions. He urged the government “to make more serious, responsible and efficient efforts to rescue the journalists, instead of just saying that they are taking care of the issue.”

Asked about the allegations of a possible exchange of the Turkish journalists for defected Syrian generals in Turkey, Çelik said the claims were “just made up.” “I have heard about these rumors, and we asked foreign minister about them during the group meeting. He did not confirm them,” Çelik said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said last week that the journalists were being held by Syrian forces. But other Turkish officials have said there was not “confirmed” information.

“There has been no confirmed information at the moment on the whereabouts of the missing Turkish journalists,” Davutoğlu said.

Stressing that “the profession of journalism depends on freedom of expression and universal values,” the minister called on “the Syrian authorities” and other parties to respect those values.

Asked whether Turkey was considering the establishment of a buffer zone in Syria, the minister said, “With concern both for our border security and for ending our Syrian brothers’ pain, we are determined to consider every possible measure.”

Two more Syrian generals fled to Turkey over the weekend, bringing to nine the number of defected generals, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News. The total number of Syrians taking refuge in

Turkey, meanwhile, has reached nearly 16,500, the General Directorate of Natural Disasters said.

Turkish authorities are setting up a fully equipped 70-bed field hospital in Islahiye in the southern
province of Gaziantep, which borders Syria, to treat Syrian refugees, Anatolia news agency reported. Ufuk Diri, the Health Ministry’s emergency coordinator, said doctors would be able to perform any type of surgery in the facility, which is expected to be ready this week.

Çelik said Turkey was helping not only opponents of the al-Assad regime but also Syrian public servants. “Some public servants cornered by the opposition are also seeking Turkey’s help, mainly for food and security,” Çelik told reporters.

He did not elaborate, but diplomatic sources explained that Syrian customs officials at the Turkish border are occasionally given food.