Turkey-Syria Tensions Rise Ahead of Deadline

Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Marco Castro

With just one day to go until a brokered ceasefire in the internal Syrian conflict was supposed to take effect, gunfire from Syria resulted in casualties across the border in Turkey. The incident occurred even as a Turkish newspaper cited experts saying Turkey could consider stronger steps against the Syrian regime if the United Nations-endorsed ceasefire is not upheld on Tuesday.

Monday’s cross-border violence occurred in a Turkish town where Syrians have fled the bloodshed in their own country. According to a press release from the Turkish Foreign Ministry sent to The Mideast Update, two Syrian nationals and two Turks were injured as a result of the gunfire from Syria.

The Bashar al-Assad regime has viciously cracked down on a 13-month-old uprising against its rule, killing thousands of civilians in the process. The once peaceful-protest opposition has itself grown more militant, leading to international concern that a civil war could break out in the country.

Turkey was incensed by Monday’s incident, according to the Foreign Ministry’s press release. “Syrian citizens who took refuge in our country from the brutality of the current regime in Syria are under Turkey’s full protection. We will certainly take necessary measures if such incidents reoccur.”

The release said that sentiment was “communicated through definitive and strong expressions” to the Syrian Chargé d’Affaires in Ankara, who was summoned on Monday to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

“It is being observed that the regime forces have recently shifted their attacks on people to areas close to our common border,” the Turkish statement further said of the Assad-led crackdown. The Turks noted that 21 wounded Syrians fleeing the assaults had recently entered Turkey, two of whom died shortly thereafter, presumably from their wounds.

Regime Backtracks?

The spike in violence near Turkey comes as a self-declared ceasefire date draws near for the Syrian government. The deal, brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan, was accepted by the Assad regime, who gave themselves until April 10 to comply according to Annan.

In the Annan plan, within 48 hours of the regime pulling back its troops from population centers the opposition was also to respect the ceasefire.

However, the Syrian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said in a statement on Sunday that the April 10 deadline announced by Annan was an incorrect interpretation of the government’s commitment.

According to the government-linked Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the spokesman implied the regime would not complete its side of the ceasefire until it had written guarantees the opposition will do the same. The regime is also calling for guarantees that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey “commit to stop funding and arming terrorist groups,” according to SANA.

“The Syrian Arab Republic is ready to continue cooperation with Mr. Annan to implement his plan and will inform him of the undertaken steps in the hope of obtaining the aforementioned guarantees,” SANA quoted the statement as saying.

Turkey Losing Patience

Monday’s press release from the Turkish Foreign Ministry noted the ceasefire in expressing outrage at the ongoing violence from the Syrian forces, including Monday’s cross-border shooting.

“It is a reality that the Syrian regime attempts to exploit certain initiatives proposed in good faith by the international community in order to intensify its violence against its own people,” said the statement.

“We strongly condemn this abominable incident which occurred at a time when the armed forces were supposed to withdraw in accordance with the mission of H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan.

“The Syrian regime must at once stop the violence against the civilian population and the international community must act immediately to ensure this.”

It remains to be seen how the world can force the Syrian regime to back down. The English-language Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman reported that as a result of the Syrian regime revisiting the ceasefire deal, one option for Turkey could be to seek international support in imposing a “humanitarian aid corridor” or “buffer zone” inside its conflict-ridden neighbor.

Today’s Zaman cited multiple experts who acknowledged Turkey could potentially push for a force to enter Syrian territory to create such a safe zone. The newspaper further reported that the Turkish Red Crescent had said it was preparing to bring aid into Syria if an aid corridor is announced.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, April 9, 2012)