Middle East

Turkey demands Syria safe havens at U.N. meet

Members of the Syrian opposition carry a wounded man outside a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo.

UNITED NATIONS: War-torn Syria’s frustrated neighbor Turkey demanded Thursday that world powers set up refugee camps within the country to stem the massive outflow of refugees fleeing the fighting.

Syrian rebels, meanwhile, claimed to have downed a regime jet, underlining the mounting ferocity of the civil war as ministers met at the United Nations to seek ways to deal with a looming humanitarian catastrophe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the U.N. Security Council to act “without delay” to set up safe havens, saying that 80,000 Syrians were already in camps in Turkey, with 4,000 crossing the border each day. Turkey warned that it would not be able to cope once that number reached 100,0000.

The opposition Syrian National Council also renewed its call for the Security Council to impose no-fly zones on Syria to even the odds on the battlefield, where only the regime has access to air power.

But France and Britain warned that the envoys meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York were unlikely to reach an agreement on safe zones, as this would imply authorizing a highly controversial protective military operation.

Hague told a joint news conference with France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that there were “considerable difficulties” with the idea.

“We are excluding no option for the future. We do not know how this crisis will develop,” he said.

“It is steadily getting worse. We are ruling nothing out, we have contingency planning for a wide range of scenarios,” Hague added.

“But we also have to be clear that anything like a safe zone requires military intervention and that of course is something that has to be weighed very carefully.”

Hague and Fabius said the Security Council – bitterly divided over the 17-month-old Syria conflict – would be unlikely to give its crucial agreement to any military operation to protect a safe zone.

Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions which could have led to economic sanctions against President Bashar Assad over the conflict and totally rejected any military intervention.

Fabius echoed Hague’s message. He also said “large-scale” military resources had to be found to protect refugees but said the conflict was almost certain to worsen and “then we will have to look at the different solutions.”

Davutoglu said Wednesday that he was in talks with the United Nations on sheltering refugees inside Syria.

“We expect the United Nations to step in for the protection of refugees inside Syria and if possible housing them in camps there,” Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency Wednesday.The United Nations says there are now 221,000 refugees registered in camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, which are all worried about security fallout from the influx.

Numbers fleeing Syria have grown in recent weeks as Assad’s forces have stepped up their battle against opposition rebels. Syrian activists say more than 25,000 people have died in the conflict, while the United Nations puts the figure at almost 20,000.

France and Britain also announced new financial aid to U.N. efforts to help relief efforts inside Syria and in the camps in neighboring countries.

France will give 5 million euros ($6.2 million) on top of the 20 million euros already allocated. Britain will give an extra 3 million pounds on top of the 27.5 million pounds it has already contributed.

A U.N. appeal for $373 million for relief operations for Syria and refugee camps outside the country has raised barely $196 million.

The United Nations said fresh cash was urgently needed, and Fabius and Hague said other countries had to step up financial assistance.

“We call on other nations to increase their funding – and on Security Council members to set a strong lead,” Hague added.

Fabius said much of the new French money would go to “liberated areas” inside Syria which are now in opposition control.

The U.N. estimates there are 1.2 million displaced people sheltering in public buildings and many more sought refuge with family and friends to escape cities where Assad’s forces are battling opposition rebels. Some 2.5 million people have been affected by the conflict and a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimate made in June said 3 million people are “food insecure.”

In more fighting on the ground Thursday, a rebel Free Syrian Army chief for Idlib province, Colonel Afif Mahmoud Suleiman, told AFP: “A MiG was shot down this morning by our men using automatic weapons shortly after taking off from Abu Zohur military airport.”

The regime has acknowledged two previous plane crashes but put them down to mechanical failures. It made no comment on the latest claim.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 31, 2012, on page 1.




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