Turkey concerned Syria border tension could escalate into violent clashes
Turkish source says top officials in Erdogan government meeting with Turkish military and intelligence officials over possibility of Syrian incursion on Turkish territory.
The situation between Syria and Turkey is explosive and could slide into a violent confrontation, a highly-placed Turkish source said yesterday. The source said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had convened a second meeting over the weekend following an earlier session on Thursday with the heads of the Turkish army, the intelligence service and the foreign ministry to explore possible scenarios involving Syrian military operations on Turkish territory. The concern is that the Syrians would try to hit refugee camps in Turkey that have already taken in 12,000 Syrian civilians.
In contacts with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Moallem, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined the seriousness with which Turkey viewed Syrian military activity on the Turkish border, demanding that Syrian forces retreat from the border. For its part, Syria is accusing Turkey of conspiring with Qatar and France to promote American and other western interests.
Syrian news website ChamPress, which is close to the regime, yesterday cited a report on Hezbollah's Al-Manar website claiming that Erdogan himself helped former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri remain in office in 2008, demanding that Syrian President Bashar Assad not try to depose Hariri, saying the Americans wanted him to remain in power.
Citing Iranian sources, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported yesterday that Iran had warned Turkey not to allow NATO forces to use Turkish territory to attack Syria, saying if Turkish territory was permitted, Iran would attack American and NATO basis in Turkey.
As the Syrian crisis sowed tension in the region, demonstrations continued yesterday in Syria itself - including the Kurdish cities of Kamishli and Al-Haska, as well as Homs, Hama, Daraa - involving tens of thousands of protesters. In Damascus, the army forcefully dispersed hundreds of demonstrators. Friday saw at least 18 protesters killed around the country.
Turkey is concerned that the Syrian army might exercise force in Kurdish towns in Syria, sparking a mass flight of Kurds into Turkey. Syrian media outlets, meanwhile, are reporting that the army has deployed troops around the restive city of Jisr al-Shughour.
Despite government declarations that the army has taken control and that the situation should shortly settle down, opposition websites have reported that the army has begun using emergency supplies and other strategic reserves. Other reports speak of a splintering in the ranks of the first army division north of Damascus, but there is no sign of major rebellion in the military.
The Syrian regime is benefiting from the disorganization of the Syrian opposition over its aims and whether it has the power to bring down Assad's regime. An initial meeting is planned tomorrow in Damascus among Syrian intellectuals and overseas opposition figures, who were allowed into Syria to find a formula that might calm the situation.
Among expected opposition demands is the formation of a 100-person council to represent the entire spectrum of political thought, including the ruling Baath party, but without the participation of government representatives.