General Robert Mood, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), announced on Saturday that the mission had suspended its activities due to an escalation of armed violence between Syrian opposition and regime forces that had impeded the ability of the observers to carry out their mandate.
During a press conference in İstanbul following an international foreign ministerial meeting within the scope of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), Davutoğlu commented on the callback of the UN observer mission. He said: “The UN Security Council needs to take new measures to prevent the further aggravation of the Syrian humanitarian tragedy. If this does not happen, we have great concern there will be a sudden influx of refugees to Turkey for humanitarian reasons.”
Meanwhile, there has been no official statement offered by the UN since its withdrawal of its 300-person observer mission as to whether or not the Annan plan is still formally in effect in Syria. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in televised remarks last month that there is no “plan B” should the Annan plan fail, although he did acknowledge the plan is not a complete solution in and of itself to stop the 15-month strife in Syria.
The six-point Annan plan, which envisaged a full truce between opposition and army forces by April 12, was the only international initiative agreed to by all members of the UN Security Council, as proposed resolutions that called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down were vetoed by Russia and China.
On Saturday, Washington made an official statement that the US is consulting its international allies as to the next steps to be taken regarding the Syrian crisis following the suspension of UN observer operations. “At this critical juncture, we are consulting with our international partners regarding next steps toward a Syrian-led political transition as called for in Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2043,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said without elaborating.
Number of Syrian refugees in Turkey increases
Davutoğlu also pointed out that the number of Syrian refugees worldwide reached 30,900 on Saturday. There was a 30 percent increase in the number of Syrians who fled to Turkey last month to reach a total of refugees at that time of around 24,000.
Turkish agencies reported that 126 Syrians from the restive northern province of Latakia entered Turkey on Saturday at Hatay province’s Yayladağı district and were sent to refugee camps in Şanlıurfa. Additionally, a Syrian army general defected to Turkey on Saturday and arrived in Hatay. He was later sent to a military camp in the province’s Apaydın district with his family, including seven children.
On Saturday, increasing conflicts between the Syrian opposition and regime forces near the Turkish border resulted in a forest fire over a four-hectare area near Hatay’s Yayladağı district. The fire was started by tracer shells that ricocheted to the Belengöz village. The fire was contained in the evening hours thanks to the efforts of the Hatay Provincial Directorate of Environment and Forestry.
Speculation arose last week among Turkish sources close to Free Syrian Army (FSA) members operating in the border provinces of Idlib that the recent increase in the number of Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey is part of preparations for a large-scale war concentrated in Syria’s northern provinces. Many FSA members have sent their families and relatives to Idlib and Aleppo to clear the region of civilians in case full-fledged war breaks out, Today’s Zaman learned from local sources last week.
Kurdish groups join Syrian opposition meeting in İstanbul
The Syrian National Council (SNC), Syria's main opposition umbrella group in exile, held a meeting together with Syrian Kurdish groups at İstanbul's Conrad Hotel on Saturday ahead of the Arab League meeting on Syria in Cairo.
The participants of the İstanbul meeting -- a committee of 15 people -- will prepare the agenda and determine the participants of the Cairo meeting, and will publish updates of progress made thus far. The Cairo meeting aims to bring together all the Syrian opposition groups.
Also joining the İstanbul meeting were Syrian Kurdish opposition groups, which announced that they would work together with the council.
Abdelbasset Sida, a Syrian Kurd who was elected as the SNC chairman earlier this month, said that the Syrian opposition would have a stronger voice by maintaining its efforts on unification.
Meanwhile, the SNC also came together on Sunday afternoon with all Syrian opposition groups to assess a recent UN decision to suspend the activities of an observer mission in Syria that was aimed at supervising a shaky truce envisaged by international envoy Kofi Annan. The plan was deemed by the international community as the Syrian regime's last chance for peace in the country.
Kurdish groups against the Syrian regime have had disagreements with the SNC before and had previously walked out of an SNC meeting to bring Syrian opposition groups together before a Friends of Syria conference on April 1 in İstanbul, complaining that the SNC's promises of minority rights for Syria's Kurds were not enough. Sida's election to lead the council was a move designed to encourage Syria's Kurdish community, who make up 10 percent of the population, to work with the SNC.