Speaking during a press conference after a meeting of the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) Central Decision and Administration Board (MKYK) the party’s deputy chairman, Hüseyin Çelik, said the government has not come to a final decision.
On Sunday, the Syrian National Council (SNC) made an urgent plea for the establishment of a buffer zone within Syria to provide shelter for civilians as well as the FSA in the fight against government forces. The discussions over a possible buffer zone in Syria gained momentum last week when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the government is considering setting up a security or buffer zone along its border with Syria and may withdraw its ambassador to Damascus after Turkish citizens inside the neighboring country return home.
“We are making assessments including the withdrawal of our ambassador,” Erdoğan told reporters in Ankara. “There are also considerations about creating a buffer zone and a safe zone, we are evaluating alternatives.”
Turkey is wary of military intervention in neighboring Syria but has signaled that a large flood of refugees entering its territory or massacres by Syrian government troops could force it to act. The government has said any operation would need some form of international agreement and involvement.
Officials say a buffer zone inside Syria would need to be secured. Without at least tacit Syrian government acceptance a buffer zone in Syria could bring Turkish forces into direct confrontation with Syrian troops. Fighting has moved closer to the Turkish frontier, with a government assault in the Idlib region.
Turkey cannot remain indifferent to Syrian crisis
Speaking later in the day, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey could not remain indifferent to developments in Syria, pointing to a sharp increase in the number of Syrians fleeing to Turkey in the past few weeks. “It is our duty to offer them support,” he said during a joint news conference with Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani. “Just as the Syrians fought as part of the Ottoman forces against invading Western forces during the Çanakkale naval battle of 1915.”
However, the foreign minister did not mention any plans to establish a buffer zone, saying instead that Turkey will continue to work with the opposition SNC to help it broaden its social base and increase international support for the council. Davutoğlu’s Moroccan counterpart, rejected any foreign military intervention in Syria, saying it would drag the whole region into turmoil.
The SNC has aspired since its formation in September of last year to be seen as the legitimate voice of Syria’s opposition movement, but the effort has been limited due to infighting between the group’s wide range of ethnic and political factions. Activists in Syria have claimed that the group’s leadership, dominated by exiled dissidents, is not in tune with the anti-regime movement inside Syria. The SNC has found itself hard-pressed to woo Syria’s diverse range of ethnic minorities, who have been favored for 42 years by the Assad family’s Alawite-minority regime. Meanwhile, Davutoğlu also said his government does not have any official information regarding the whereabouts of two Turkish journalists missing in Syria. Adem Özköse, a reporter from the İstanbul-based Gerçek Hayat (Real Life) magazine and Milat daily, arrived with Hamit Coşkun, a cameraman, in Syria on March 5. They were last contacted on March 10. Reports claiming that they are being held by Syrian intelligence have not been confirmed by Turkish officials.
Çelik said the Turkish government has formally contacted Syrian authorities regarding the two journalists. “We haven’t received any response yet,” he said.