The flow of Syrian refugees to Turkey accelerated, stretching the country’s capacity to accommodate them, after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces attacked the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour.
There are now 8,538 refugees in tent cities in the border province of Hatay, up from 6,817 yesterday, the state-run Anatolia news service reported, citing the government agency for disaster management. Turkey’s Red Crescent, which had facilities to shelter 8,000 people as of June 11, today set up a fifth camp ground that can accommodate an additional 785 people.
Syrian refugees in Turkey more than doubled in the past three days as Assad’s army took full control over Jisr al- Shughour in an operation described by the government as targeting armed rebels responsible for the death of 120 security personnel last week. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s stance toward Syria hardened with the approach of the June 12 elections in Turkey, with the premier saying that he will speak with Assad in “very different way.”
“From Turkey’s point of view, a deterioration of relations with Syria, which would mean its influence in the Arab world would affected, would be very extremely troubling,” said James Ker-Lindsay, a fellow at the London School of Economics who focuses on security, peace and conflict. “The idea of Turkey becoming a major international power has relied on the fact that it has been working to strengthen its ties.”
Assad called Turkey’s prime minister to congratulate him on winning a third term in office, Anatolia said. The countries came to the brink of war in 1998 and the leaders have improved relations since Assad became president in 2000.
Erdogan told Assad that he must avoid violence, halt the unrest and enact reforms, according to Anatolia. Turkey, which has promised to keep the borders open, also expressed its apprehension about the flood of refugees, it said.
“We are currently meeting the needs of Syrians coming to Turkey,” Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said today in a televised news conference. “Our hope is that the situation in Syria will be resolved as soon as possible, restoring peace, calm and stability.”
A total of 1,297 civilians and 340 members of the army and security forces have been killed since the protests started in mid-March, the Syrian Observatory said today in its website. Most of the inhabitants of Jisr al-Shughour have fled, according to the the human rights group.
Opposition supporters and local residents have said the security forces were executed in the northwestern town after refusing to fire on pro-democracy protesters, and described random shootings and the torching of fields by government troops.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will host a meeting of Turkish ambassadors in Ankara tomorrow to discuss developments in Syria and other Arab countries, according to Anatolia.
France, which together with the U.K. proposed a motion in the United Security Council on June 8 condemning Assad’s crackdown, is seeking to increase cooperation with Turkey over Syria, President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a June 13 letter to Erdogan that was released today.
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