ISTANBUL // Turkey has said it will not be a "spectator" and might send its army into Syria if faced with a huge influx of refugees driven from their homes by the fighting in Aleppo.
Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, said a security zone could be erected as a reaction "against terrorism or a big flow of refugees" into Turkey.
"Hundreds of thousands people could come to Turkey all at once," the minister said late on Sunday, according to news reports in several Turkish newspapers yesterday.
A Turkish diplomat confirmed the minister's remarks.
"In that case, new arrivals could be housed inside Syria. Imagine 10,000 people are fleeing towards Turkey and tanks open fire on them from the Syrian side," Mr Davutoglu was reported as saying. "What do you do in that case? Do you remain a spectator?"
The Turkish government has said its military has considered erecting a security zone inside Syria but that no decision had been made.
The diplomat cautioned that the minister had not announced a firm decision on a safe haven but that Mr Davutoglu had described developments that could bring about such a decision.
Turkish tanks and other armoured vehicles were moved towards the border near Gaziantep on Monday. Yesterday, border units were also reinforced in Sanliurfa.
"Should there be a massive influx, especially due to [the fighting in] Aleppo, every option would be on the table," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey stood at 44,083 yesterday, the government relief agency in Ankara said.
Numbers could rise rapidly, Mr Davutoglu had warned.
He also said efforts by Kurdish rebels or militant Islamists to use the growing chaos in Syria to establish camps along the Syrian side of the border could be another reason for Turkey to intervene.
"We will not allow terror structures along the whole of the border, be it the PKK or [Al] Qaeda. We are taking all security measures," Mr Davutoglu said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a rebel group that has been fighting against Ankara since 1984.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, last week accused Syria of allowing PKK rebels a free hand in the north of the country and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike against the group inside Syria.
Reflecting Ankara's concern that the unrest in Syria could destabilise south-eastern Anatolia by fanning Turkey's own Kurdish conflict, Mr Davutoglu stressed Turkey's possible actions in the border region were not related to the Kurdish question.
"None of the measures we are going to take will be directed against our Kurdish brothers," he said.