Syrian riots in camps unacceptable, Davutoğlu tells SNC

July 24, 2012, Tuesday/ 14:13:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Monday said riots that took place in Syrian refugee camps in southern Turkey were unacceptable, adding that Turkey did not want such incident to occur again.

Seventeen people were detained on Monday after riots broke out at a refugee camp for Syrians in southern Anatolia, during which four Syrians and four members of the Turkish security forces were injured. Clashes erupted when a group of about 1,500 Turkmen refugees arrived at the camp, located near the town of Islahiye, on Sunday from the Syrian city of Latakia, President Bashar al-Assad's hometown, news reports said. It was not immediately clear why the group's arrival sparked clashes, although it may be a sign of ethnic tensions between Syrian Arabs and Turkic-speaking Turkmens, or linked to the fact that the Turkmens were from Assad's hometown.

The Turkish media also reported that the Syrians had removed a Turkish flag at the camp and briefly took several Turkish police officers hostage, sparking anger in some circles. "Refugees wreak terror," the nationalist Yeniçağ newspaper wrote, saying that the Syrians rioted because they did not want Turkmens at the camp.

In a meeting with Abdulbaset Sieda, the head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella organization encompassing various opposition groups in Syria, on Monday afternoon, Davutoğlu said it is believed that the incidents that took place in the refugee camps were committed by a small group, adding that they were unacceptable.

Sieda said the SNC appreciates Turkey's support extended to the Syrian people. Regarding the incidents at the camps, Sieda said they were isolated cases.

The SNC head stated that they did not approve of what happened in the camps and that they appreciated the Turkish government's hospitality, adding that they condemn irresponsible attitudes. Sieda also said that the Syrian opposition had from the outset received financial and logistical assistance from Turkey.

The clashes come amid high tensions due to difficult living conditions in the refugee camps along the Turkish-Syrian border resulting from high temperatures, frequent disruptions to the water supply and poverty. In the province of Kilis, police also used tear gas to disperse a group of refugees angry about food and water shortages and who were throwing stones at police.

Turkish officials held a meeting on Tuesday at the Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) to discuss the situation of the Syrians in the refugee camps.

Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay; Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin; Foreign Minister Davutoğlu; Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin; National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan; İbrahim Kalın, the chief adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; and AFAD head Fuat Oktay were in attendance at the meeting.

“Although there are some problems regarding the refugee camps, Turkey is doing its best for the Syrians living in these camps. The number of Syrians is increasing as the civil war in Syria intensifies. Increasing numbers are fleeing to the Turkish border. Therefore, we have taken serious measures in that area,” said Atalay.

“These people are coming from abroad and they have serious problems. … They are suffering greatly. It is not easy; they can have some problems in the camps. Turkey is striving to solve these problems,” said Atalay.

Television footage showed armored personnel carriers entering the camp in Islahiye and police firing weapons into the air to disperse groups of men fighting each other with fists and clubs.

More than 43,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Turkey, according to the latest reports by AFAD. Some refugees have complained about conditions at the camps, including a lack of food.

During the meeting, Davutoğlu also said that a sectarian war must not be allowed to take place in Syria.

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