Middle East

Turkey: Worst-case scenarios have arrived

Damaged buildings are seen in the Khaldieh neighborhood of Homs.

ANKARA/DAMASCUS: Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned Monday that “worst-case scenarios” were playing out in Syria and vowed Turkey would do everything necessary to protect itself, as its army responded for a sixth day to Syrian fire.

Gul’s warning came as violence continued to rage on several fronts in the war, claiming at least 125 lives, while an evening suicide car bomb attack reportedly targeted an Air Force intelligence building outside the capital.

Initial reports indicated that a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle near the facility in Harasta, while explosions and clashes between government troops and rebels broke out in the nearby Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun.

The opposition Syrian National Council, meanwhile, said it would study a senior Turkish official’s weekend remarks that Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa could head a transitional government.

Gul said the violence in Turkey’s southern neighbor could not go on indefinitely and President Bashar Assad’s fall was inevitable.

“The worst-case scenarios are taking place right now in Syria ... Our government is in constant consultation with the Turkish military. Whatever is needed is being done immediately as you see, and it will continue to be done,” Gul told reporters in Ankara.

“There will be a change, a transition sooner or later ... It is a must for the international community to take effective action before Syria turns into a bigger wreck and further blood is shed, that is our main wish,” he said.

Turkey’s armed forces have bolstered their presence along the 900-km border with Syria in recent days and have been responding to gunfire and shelling spilling across from the south.

Turkey’s Chief of Staff, General Necdet Ozel, visited the southern city of Adana to inspect the region patrolled by Turkey’s 2nd Army, which protects the border with Syria, the military said on its website.

Damascus has said it fired into Turkey accidentally but has failed to live up to pledges made last week, after a Syrian shell killed five civilians in Akcakale, to ensure no more ordnance flies across the border.

Turkey launched its latest retaliatory strike after a mortar bomb fired from Syria landed in countryside in the Turkish province of Hatay some 150-200 meters inside the district of Hacipasa, a Turkish official told Reuters.

As for Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s weekend remarks that Sharaa could play a role in a political transition process, the head of the SNC said he wouldn’t oppose a role for members of the ruling Baath party as long as they did not participate in killings during the uprising.

The comments by Abdel-Basset Sayda appear to be a softening of the opposition’s stance that it will accept nothing less than the complete removal of the Assad regime and the president’s inner circle.

He told the Associated Press that the Turkey-based SNC will meet next week in Qatar and will discuss, among other things, the possibility of Sharaa serving as interim leader if Assad steps down.

“We are with any solution that stops the killings in Syria and respect the ambitions of the Syrian people in what guarantees that there will be no return to dictatorship and tyranny in Syria,” Sayda said by telephone from Turkey.

When asked about Sharaa, Sayda said: “We have no information that he participated in the killings or gave orders but he belongs to the political leadership.”

Sayda said the Syrian opposition will not repeat the experience of De-Baathification, or the policy carried out in Iraq years ago when members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party were forced to leave their jobs after his government was overthrown during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

“We will just remove all its [the Baath party’s] illegitimate privileges and officials who committed crimes will be put on trial,” he added. “The Baath party will practice its activities in accordance with the democratic process. We will not have a revenge policy and we will preserve state institutions.”

AFP also reported that Sayda entered the country Monday for the first time since assuming his post in June, rebel sources said.

Sayda visited the border town of Bab al-Hawa in the northwestern province of Idlib, where he met several leaders of the rebel Free Syrian Army, sources told AFP.

In Syria, government troops focused on re-taking rebel-held neighborhoods in the city of Homs and the nearby town of Qusayr, where rebel forces have been under siege since late last year, sources on both sides said.

“The army is in the midst of trying to cleanse the last rebel districts of the city of Homs,” a Syrian army commander told AFP.

“The army has already cleansed the villages surrounding Qusayr, and is now trying to take back the town itself,” the commander said on condition of anonymity.

A security official told AFP the army hopes to retake the besieged areas by the end of the week to free up troops for battle zones in the north, such as Aleppo.

“It is a huge operation, and we hope to finish it off by the end of this week,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “After that, we will concentrate on the north of Syria.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the escalation of the conflict along the Turkey-Syria border, as well as the impact of the crisis on Lebanon, were “extremely dangerous.”

“The situation in Syria has dramatically worsened. It is posing serious risks to the stability of Syria’s neighbors and the entire region,” he told a conference in Strasbourg, France.

The Local Coordination Committees network of anti-regime activists said the daily death toll reached 125 people, while the Syrian Revolution General Commission, another anti-regime group, put the figure at 141.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain said the violence has killed more than 32,000 people, most of them civilians, since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt in March last year.

Some 1,000 people have been killed in the past week alone, the Observatory said.

“At least 22,980 civilians, 7,884 soldiers and 1,215 defectors have been killed in violence in Syria,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP, adding the latest figures excluded Monday’s preliminary death tolls.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 09, 2012, on page 1.




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