The Turkish PM has warned that Turkey may use military force to set up a buffer zone within Syrian territory if Assad forces Turkey to take that step. His warning came on the heels of Monday's shooting by Syrian forces into a Turkish camp near the border that killed at least two Syrians
The Turkish initiative came after the cease-fire deal hammered out by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan failed to bring any resolution to the bloodshed in Syria, with Assad making new demands from the opposition over the weekend.
On an official visit to China, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he thought the Security Council should present a new package on Syria at this stage. “For that to happen, the necessary meetings are going to be held. We will demand that they [UNSC members] take whatever steps they ought to under these circumstances,” he told reporters traveling with him in Beijing. He predicted that Syria would become more isolated.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who accompanied Erdoğan on the visit to China, cut short his trip and returned to Turkey on Tuesday. This was in response to mounting tensions with Syria, after Syrian forces fired across the border at a refugee camp in Turkey on Monday. Davutoğlu also spoke on the phone with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Monday on the eve of Lavrov's meeting in Moscow with visiting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
Before departing for Turkey, Davutoğlu also spoke with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and his counterparts from three other UN Security Council member nations. Davutoğlu told Clinton that the latest developments on the Turkish-Syrian border were worrying, the Anatolia news agency reported. Erdoğan announced while in China that Davutoğlu may attend the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting to be held in Washington on April 12 to lobby on Syria. “He may hold a teleconference with the G-8,” Erdoğan said.
Recalling that Turkey hosted the 83-member Friends of Syria group of countries meeting last month, Erdoğan also mentioned that the group can jointly appeal to the UN to stop the violence in Syria. “By working on these [plans], we will ask the UN to intervene [in the Syrian crisis], because the main responsibility here lies with the UN,” he explained.
Erdoğan has lobbied the Chinese government on Syria during the visit. He said that China has moved from its earlier position after Turkey explained what had really been happening inside Syria. He also added that even Russia had shifted its position. “After we explained the situation to them, they [Russia and China] came to a point where they said ‘Well, you are right, let's talk it over and work together.' Let's hope that it won't be business as usual anymore,” Erdoğan said.
In a change to his planned schedule, Erdoğan decided on Tuesday to fly to Riyadh directly from China to have talks with Saudi officials when his visit to China ends. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two Sunni heavyweights in the Middle East, have both taken strong positions against Assad and demanded that he leave power. After wrapping up his visit in China, Erdoğan will fly to Saudi Arabia on Thursday to have a meeting with King Abdullah in Riyadh at the end of the week. Erdoğan is expected to press the king about Arab countries taking the lead in coordinated international measures against Assad.
Although it is not yet confirmed, Erdoğan may even stop in Russia after his Saudi visit in a bid to convince Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to support international efforts in condemning the Assad regime. The shuttle diplomacy with neighboring countries over Syria is also continuing unabated, Erdoğan said. “Our diplomacy is continuing with neighboring countries and we will, of course, take the necessary steps,” he said in Beijing.
Erdoğan also lashed out at the incident on the Syrian border on Monday which left two people dead and at least five wounded. Accusing the Syrian regime of border violation, Erdoğan warned that Turkey would “use its rights as guaranteed by international law,” without further elaboration. “What should Turkey do in the event of a border violation? Turkey will do what other countries would do in accordance with international law. This is a right granted to us by international law,” Erdoğan said. “We will make a necessary assessment [of the shooting by Syrian forces] with regards to this border violation” he added.
Asked about the possibility of a buffer zone inside Syrian territory, Erdoğan said that nothing had been ruled out, adding that Turkey would consider all options on the table. “We'll take what is the most appropriate [course of action on Syria]” Erdoğan noted, stressing that Turkey does not want to enter into Syria. “But if anybody were to force us to do exactly that, it would be the Syrian regime itself. They [the Syrian regime] ought to take the necessary steps to ensure that they do not put us in that position,” Erdoğan warned.
The number of refugees who have fled to Turkey from the violence in Syria has exceeded 25,000. Erdoğan confirmed Turkey's “open door” policy again on Tuesday, saying that Turkey would never close its doors to the Syrian people even if this number reaches 100,000. “You are seeing how these people are escaping [from Syria] on some international television stations. These people are not fleeing on a whim. They are fleeing death. You cannot close your doors to these people,” the prime minister said.
“They [Syrian soldiers] are even shooting fleeing people in the back. They are shooting mercilessly regardless of whether they are women or children. Look, he [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] gave a promise to Mr. [Kofi] Annan, but 60, 70, 80, 100 people have been killed every day since then.
“What we want, as a country which has a nine to 10-kilometer-long border with Syria and close relations with the Syrian people, is an end to the bloodshed and deaths in Syria. This is what we want. We could not make this clear to the Syrian regime. They did not want to understand this,” Erdoğan explained.