Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has stated that a large-scale massacre committed by Syrian regime forces in Banias, a predominantly Sunni city on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, is a step by the regime to create an Alawite region in the war-torn country.
Speaking to the Hürriyet daily on the sidelines of a meeting on Somalia in London on Tuesday, Davutoğlu stated that Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad has kicked off his “fifth stage,” which is to carve out a safe haven for Alawites in western Syria through the cleansing of Sunnis in the coastal towns of Banias and Beyda.
Banias is a Sunni settlement amidst a region populated by Alawites in Syria. The Sunni village of al-Beyda, where regime brutalities were concentrated last week, is known as one of the first areas where the Shabiha, armed militias in civilian clothing notorious for their assaults on opposition forces and blamed for many of the worst massacres of the Syrian conflict, attacked civilians when the insurgency first started in Syria.
“The Syrian regime is trying to clear a corridor between Homs and Lebanon,” said Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu also noted that he had expressed his views to US Secretary of State John Kerry before Kerry's talks in Moscow on Tuesday in a phone conversation.
“The Banias massacre is a new stage. Thus far, the Syrian regime has followed four stages. During the first stage, it used snipers to kill people protesting peacefully in demonstrations. The second stage included the ‘mass punishment' of residential areas by shelling which started in July 2011,” said Davutoğlu.
This, according to Davutoğlu, resulted in the armed resistance of the opposition mostly in the central provinces of Hama and Homs.
The Turkish foreign minister added that the third stage started in March 2012, when the regime used warplanes to strike opposition-held areas. This pushed the resistance to spread to non-residential areas. The fourth stage started when the Syrian regime fired Scud missiles at northern Syria.
“In the Banias massacre, we are concerned over this fact: If it is impossible to control the entire country, the new strategy involves ethnically cleansing some areas and trying to hold on to this territory,” Davutoğlu said.
Davutoğlu said that the Syrian regime is trying to clear a corridor between Homs and Lebanon by using “foreign militias” and the Shabiha who are known for their brutality.
Stating that Banias is situated in a critical area on the coast and provides a land channel between the capital of Damascus and the coastal areas predominantly populated by Alawites, Davutoğlu argued that Qusayr, a town bordering Lebanon, had been cleansed by the militias and that the next targets were Beyda and Banias. “This is a very dangerous game. This is an ethnic massacre,” said Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu also noted that this “ethnic massacre” aims to instill fear in people and force them to flee. He pointed out that more than 1 million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon and that these are mostly Sunnis. “There is an effort to transform the region into a cleansed area. This could foster a culture of revenge among Sunnis,” Davutoğlu said.
Davutoğlu likened the latest killings in Banias to the plan by Serbs in the early 1990s to cleanse eastern Bosnia of Muslim Bosniaks in a bid to create a Serbian region.
Thousands of Sunni Muslims fled a Syrian coastal town on Saturday, a day after reports circulated that dozens of people, including children, had been killed by pro-government gunmen in the area.
The violence in the coastal region of Syria underscored the sectarian nature of the two-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands and sent more than 1 million Syrian refugees to neighboring countries.
Activists said that around 4,000 people were fleeing from the predominantly Sunni southern parts of Banias amid fears that pro-government gunmen “might commit a massacre.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had earlier addressed Assad from Ankara after the massacre of civilians by Syrian regime forces in Banias, saying, “You will definitely pay the price for this.”
“You will pay the price very heavily for your show of strength on little babies, which you did not show to others. The moans of these children that reach the skies will bring divine revenge onto you,” Erdoğan said in the closing speech of a Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) consultation meeting on Sunday.
Davutoğlu also stated that Turkey stands alongside those who have been subjected to the atrocities of the regime, adding that Turkey will also stand by Alawites should they face similar atrocities by the regime.