Turkey draws up plans to establish buffer zone in Syria

Turkey draws up plans to establish buffer zone in Syria

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu shakes hands with his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynerds before discussing Iran nuclear talks. (Photo: AA)

April 04, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:53:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Ankara has drawn up plans for establishing “safe zones” inside Syria to protect refugees fleeing a year-long government crackdown, a top advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan told an American daily on Wednesday.

Erdoğan advisor İbrahim Kalın and other Ankara insiders reportedly told The Wall Street Journal that Ankara officials have drawn up plans for establishing safe zones inside its southern neighbor which would be established in the event of a humanitarian crisis. Although Kalın reportedly told the paper that Ankara was far from planning any immediate action on Syria, he said it had decided on a threshold for the number of deaths inside Syria it would tolerate before taking “tougher measures.”

The paper also suggested that while Ankara remains hesitant about unilaterally setting up safe zones, which would necessitate a military mission in Syria, it could invoke the international “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine to spur UN support for establishing safe zones. UN support, in turn, is widely seen as a possible precursor to organizing a multinational peacekeeping mission in Syria.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has stated that the Syrian government should prove its commitment to international Syria envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan by taking quick action on quelling violence in the country, not by making “hollow promises.”

During a joint press appearance with his Portuguese counterpart, Paulo Portas, on Tuesday, Davutoğlu commented that joint UN and Arab League envoy Annan’s briefing of the UN Security Council on the progress of his peace plan this week has marked an important new period regarding the Syrian crisis, highlighting that every actor including Syria should fulfill its responsibilities and stick to their word starting immediately.

“During this critical period, we are counting on concrete steps being taken [to provide peace], not on hollow promises. We will closely monitor Syria to see if it will fulfill the promises it has made,” Davutoğlu stated.

Annan appealed to the 15-member Security Council on Monday to back his peace plan deadline and increase pressure on the Syrian government to halt its offensive against the opposition.

Syria has agreed to start partially implementing Annan’s peace plan by April 10, and there should be a “full cessation of hostilities” within 48 hours, Annan told the council.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently agreed to Annan’s six-point peace plan, which includes an immediate cease-fire between regime and opposition forces, withdrawal of security and military forces from Syrian cities and ensuring visa freedom to Syria for journalists.

A Syrian government official told The Associated Press that Syrian troops began pulling out on Tuesday from calm cities and headed back to their bases a week ahead of the deadline to implement the international cease-fire plan. The claim could not be immediately verified, and activists near the capital of Damascus denied troops were leaving their area. They said the day regime forces withdraw from the streets, Syria will witness massive protests that will overthrow the government.

FM: Russian ship transits straits in compliance with international rules

Amid international pressure on the Assad regime to implement a cease-fire in line with the Annan plan, Russia, the Assad regime’s heavyweight backer, is sending a warship to its naval base in Syria, in a show of solidarity with Damascus.

Asked about whether Russia had sought Turkey’s permission before sending its missile destroyer Smetliviy to the Syrian port of Tartus through the Turkish straits, Davutoğlu noted that the passage of the Russian warship had been made in compliance with the principles of the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits.

“The Montreux Convention has very clear terms that such vessels can pass through the straits. However, during this critical period it is imperative that every international actor act with caution,” maintained Davutoğlu.

Russia’s sending of a ship to its naval base in Tartus has been assessed as a sign of continuing solidarity between Damascus and Moscow by international media outlets. In December, Russia made a similar move and sent its aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and other vessels to Tartus.

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