Turkey Again Floats Syrian “Safe Zones” Proposal

The foreign minister says Turkey cannot handle the refugee flow if it swells further.

Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, February 10
Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, February 10 (CSIS)

Flooded by refugees, Turkey on Wednesday again raised the possibility of erecting humanitarian “safe zones” in neighboring Syria to shelter civilians who are trying to escape the conflagration that is Syria’s civil war.

Violence in the northern city of Aleppo, fifty kilometres from the Turkish border, has swelled the number of refugees in recent weeks. Some 70,000s Syrians have already found refuge in Turkey. If the number reaches 100,000, “We will run out of space to accommodate them,” said Ahmet Davutoğlu, the country’s foreign minister. “We should be able to accommodate them in Syria.”

France, since November of last year, has also pushed for the creation of what it describes as “humanitarian corridors” to allow food and medicine to reach civilians in the wartorn Arab country.

The uprising in Syria, which pits largely Sunni insurgents against the Ba’athist regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has raged for seventeen months. Despite international condemnation of the government’s heavy handed methods of suppression, there has been no concentrated effort to prevent Assad from continuing to wage war against his own people.

Russia in particular is opposed to intervention and criticized the French proposal as one that could “help legitimize” regime change in Damascus. When the Russians allowed a United Nations Security Council resolution last year for intervention in Libya to pass, it paved the way for Arab and Western countries to dislodge the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi. Moscow is anxious to prevent a similar scenario in Syria which it considers close to an ally.

The French proposal would link Syrian population centers to the borders of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or a zone on the Mediterranean coast that is protected by “observers.” Alain Juppé, the foreign minister at the time, ruled out an armed intervention but conceded that a buffer zone may have to be defended by force. It’s unclear whether the incumbent, socialist government in Paris still supports this proposal.

The United Nations previously erected humanitarian corridors in Angola to enable the passage of aid and nongovernmental personnel there in 1993. It also aimed to protect a “safe area” in Srebrenica, Bosnia, during the breakup of Yugoslavia although Dutch peacekeepers in 1995 could not prevent the massacre of more than 8,000 civilians who were supposed to be safe in the enclave.

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