x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Turkey calls for Syrian refugee 'safe zones'

United Nations urged to set up protected havens on Syrian side of border if numbers fleeing the conflict increase to 100,000.

A Syrian rebel (left) helps men carry a civilian wounded by sniper fire to a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo. Fighting in Aleppo, only 50 kilometres from the border, has swelled the number of refugees fleeing to Turkey.
A Syrian rebel (left) helps men carry a civilian wounded by sniper fire to a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo. Fighting in Aleppo, only 50 kilometres from the border, has swelled the number of refugees fleeing to Turkey.

ISTANBUL //The United Nations may have to create a safe zone for refugees inside Syria because Turkey cannot cope with the influx for much longer.

Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday the UN should step in once the number of Syrian refugees in Turkish camps - about 70,000 at the moment - passes 100,000.

"If the number exceeds 100,000, the situation changes from a refugee flow to mass migration," Mr Davutoglu said.

"We will run out of space to accommodate them. We should be able to accommodate them in Syria. The United Nations may build camps in a safe zone within Syria's borders."

Fighting in the northern city of Aleppo, only 50 kilometres from the border, has swelled the number of refugees fleeing to Turkey. Syrian rebels have also expanded the territory they hold near the border in the past few weeks and opposition groups say they need the protection of no-fly zones and safe havens patrolled by foreign forces.

Mr Davutoglu said Turkey would take part in a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council on August 30 to study the humanitarian situation in Syria and neighbouring countries, hoping a decision would be taken there.

But Russia, a strong ally of the Syrian regime and a UN veto power, said safe havens would not help to end the conflict. "Unilateral ideas won't work," the foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said this month that the United States and Turkey were looking at all measures to help the insurgents, including a no-fly zone.

But a Turkish diplomat cautioned that a safe haven or no-fly zone would not be established automatically once Mr Davutoglu's figure of 100,000 refugees was reached.

"It's a psychological barrier," the diplomat said. "It does not mean we will declare a no-fly zone once there are 100,001 refugees."

The diplomat said Turkey had to tell about 5,000 Syrians to wait at the border last week because there was no place for them in Turkish camps.

Those people had been taken to schools, other public buildings and refugee camps in Turkey by now, he said. "But the question is: what happens if that figure is not 5,000 people who turn up at the border suddenly, but tens of thousands?"

Yesterday US President Barack Obama said that if Syria were to move or use its chemical weapons would be a "red line" that would change his perspective on how to respond to the conflict. "There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons... That would change my calculations significantly," Mr Obama told reporters at a White House briefing.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister appointed to revive the UN's peace effort, called the situation in Syria a "civil war".

"A lot of people say we must avoid civil war in Syria - I think we are already there, we have been for quite some time now," Mr Brahimi said. "What's needed is to end the civil war, and that won't be easy."

Mr Brahimi was appointed last week to replace Kofi Annan as the joint UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria.

Syrian tanks shelled the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Al Mouadamiya yesterday, killing at least three people, opposition activists said. Another six people were reported to have been killed in the southern city of Daraa, birthplace of the country's 18-month-old uprising against the regime of Bashar Al Assad. At least 84 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, according to activists.

The latest death toll came as UN monitors in Syria left Damascus yesterday, after a four-month mission in which they became helpless spectators of the conflict and in which French president, Francois Hollande, insisted that there can be no political solution for the conflict unless the president, Bashar Al Assad steps down from power. There "cannot be a political solution without the departure of Bashar Al Assad," Mr Hollande told Mr Brahimi in a meeting, according to a statement issued by his office.

tseibert@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse