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Turkey May Bypass Syrian Trade Routes if Unrest Worsens

Turkish Minister of Transportation Binali Yildirim (file photo)

Turkish Minister of Transportation Binali Yildirim (file photo)

Turkey says it would shift its Middle East trade routes to go through Iraq, cutting out Syria as a transit country if unrest there worsens and embargoes against Damascus go into effect.

Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday his country would open new border crossings with Iraq if necessary in order to facilitate the shift in regional land shipments.

Syria has been the main transit route for Middle East trade, which Damascus hopes would dampen the effects of tough new sanctions from the Arab League and European Union.

Ankara has backed the league's measures and is soon expected to announce its own sanctions on Syria, with whom it shares an 800 kilometer border. Yildirim said the planned measures would be selectively imposed in order not to harm the Syrian people.

Onetime allies Turkey and Syria abolished visa requirements in 2009 and had planned to raise their trade volume from the current $2.5 billion to $5 billion in 2012.

Also Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara may set up a buffer zone along its border with Syria in coordination with the international community if hundreds of thousands of people attempt to flee the violence there for Turkey.

Davutoglu told a Turkish television channel that "if the oppression continues" in Syria, Ankara is ready "for every scenario."

He said the Syrian government must make peace with its own people and that a regime that tortures its citizens has no chance to survive.

Turkey has so far accommodated about 7,500 Syrian refugees in tents along the Syrian border.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.