Turkish Foreign Minister has said a UN-brokered peace plan to end 13-month violence in Syria is not an “end-game” for Turkey’s southern neighbor and instead it is a beginning of a process that could lay the ground for a comprehensive solution.
Davutoğlu told a group of journalists in İstanbul on Friday that Syrian authorities’ handling of peaceful protests in the face of a fragile truce would be a determining factor whether or not the six-point peace plan by United Nations envoy to Syria Kofi Annan is lasting. He said lasting peace in Syria could be possible if Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad allows people to freely express their demands.
Activists on the ground reported that Syria cease-fire, started early Thursday, was largely holding on Friday while tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets in the first major test of the Annan-brokered truce. While some activists claimed that regime forces fired live bullets and tear gas in some locations, killing at least five people, Local Coordination Committees reported that Syrian troops fired on some 31 protests across the country, killing at least eleven.
Since the truce formally took effect on Thursday, Assad's forces have halted the large-scale shelling attacks that have pushed the country toward civil war over the past 13 months. But security forces backed by tanks, snipers and plainclothes agents maintained an intimidating presence in the streets of major cities and scattered violence was reported.
Davutoğlu confirmed that there are signs of reduced intensity in violence across the country but dismissed that it is tantamount to fully implementing the peace plan.
The Syrian regime has ignored at least two major requirements in the Annan plan - that it send forces back to their barracks and allow peaceful demonstrations. Troops remain in towns and cities, and the regime insisted that demonstrators seek government permits.
The truce is at the center of Annan's six-point plan to stop the bloodshed and launch talks on Syria's political future. The uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests but became increasingly militarized in response to a brutal crackdown by the regime. The fighting has killed an estimated 9,000 people.
Davutoğlu said Turkey expects Syrian authorities to pull out heavy weapons from cities and populated areas and order them to return to their barracks. Turkish foreign minister underlined that deploying tanks to the outskirts of cities is a violation of the Annan plan.
Davutoğlu noted that people in big cities have evacuated their houses en masse and heavy weapons in city suburbs may have been targeting civilians in a new phase of military crackdown.
The Syrian government has broken promises in the past and so far ignored a key provision of Annan's plan to pull troops back to barracks. Opposition leaders say Assad doesn't want to ease the clampdown - because that would unleash protesters to flood the streets and escalate the movement to bring down the president.
Since the start of Annan’s mission on Febr. 23, Assad stepped up its crackdown across the country. Activists said Syrian regime killed more than 1,000, mostly civilians, only last week. Turkey was hosting nearly 10,000 refugees when Annan was assigned to mediate the Syrian crisis and by the time he visited Damascus on March 10 in a bid to find a political solution to the clashes, Syrian refugees flooding into Turkey surged to more than 13,000.
Turkish authorities said that there are currently 24,362 registered Syrian refugees in Turkey as of Friday. On April 5 alone, more than 2,800 crossed over from the Syrian region of Idlib.
Most of the refugees are staying in camps in Turkey's southern provinces of Hatay and Gaziantep, but the government has moved 9,000 to a containerized housing unit city in Kilis province. After an unexpected surge in early April, 1,626 refugees were resettled at a new site in Şanlıurfa province.
Under an $84 million UN appeal launched last month to support refugees' stay for six months, 50,000 people would be covered in Turkey, with a contingency plan for 100,000. This week the UNHCR dispatched 1,500 tents and 1,500 blankets to Turkey, sources told AFP.
On Monday, the violence in Syria spilled across two borders when regime forces opened fire, killing a TV journalist in Lebanon and injured up to six people in a refugee camp in Turkey. The bloodshed was a sign of how easily Syria's neighbors could be drawn into a wider conflict.
Turkey protested Syria’s cross border attacks, which drew international condemnation, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stressed taking necessary steps in response to the cross-border attacks.
Davutoğlu told journalists that the cross-border attacks have elements that are beyond humanitarian dimension of the crisis, vowing that Turkey has sufficient power to maintain its security. He urged the international community to do what they are required to do amid mass influx of Syrian refugees to avoid Turkish-Syrian confrontation.
Annan hoped to dispatch an advance team of up to 30 observers to Syria as quickly as possible to start monitoring the truce, and the UN Security Council was to vote on his request as early as Friday. If the relative calm holds, a beefed-up mission of up to 250 members was to follow quickly.
Davutoğlu urged the Security Council to dispatch sufficient number of monitors that could reach out across the country for a comprehensive observation and he said the observers should be granted necessary mandate by the UN for free access all around the country. Davutoğlu also underlined that Syria must open the country to international media and allow the access of journalists for accurate reporting.
Turkey urged the UN Security Council this week to endorse a resolution that would include taking necessary measures to protect the Syrian people as the uprising continues to take a high toll on Syrian civilians.