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Turkey May Create Buffer Zone in Syria for Refugees

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (file photo)
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (file photo)
Dorian Jones

Turkey's prime minister has warned Damascus that they are considering creating a buffer zone in Syria to stem the stream of Syrian refugees fleeing over the border.

With thousands of Syrians fleeing into Turkey to escape the violence, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicates Turkey is considering intervening inside Syria to protect those refugees, by establishing a humanitarian buffer zone where civilians would be safe from attack.  

Erdogan says such a zone is being looked at, but other ideas are also under consideration.  One of his senior ministers said late Thursday that a buffer zone offering protection to civilians fleeing the violence could extend as far as 10 kilometers into Syria.

During the past few days alone, thousands of refugees have streamed into Turkey from Syria, as the crackdown by government security forces there has moved north, toward the Turkish border.

New camps to house more than 20,000 people are under construction, but the head of the Turkish Red Crescent estimates that up to 500,000 Syrians could eventually seek sanctuary in Turkey.

Turkish diplomats have long argued that it is preferable to provide humanitarian relief in Syria, but observers say Ankara has been reluctant to intervene across the border without international support.

Istanbul is hosting a meeting on April 2 of the Friends of Syria, a forum made up of over 50 countries that will discuss the situation in Syria.

Prime Minister Erdogan said the meeting will provide an opportunity to coordinate efforts .

Erdogan said the Istanbul meeting will bring Arab League members and other countries together to work out a plan on what to do.

The prime minister said he is waiting to see a U.N. Security Council resolution designed to be acceptable to Russia.  Previous Chinese and Russian vetoes have hampered Western and Arab-backed diplomatic action over Syria in the United Nations.

A Syrian refugee buffer zone is expected to be discussed at the Friends of Syria meeting next month.  Once a close ally of Damascus, Ankara now is taking a leading role in opposing the Assad government's ongoing crackdown on dissent.

In a further sign of Ankara's growing concern, it has urged all Turkish citizens to leave Syria.  Mr. Erdogan said he may recall his ambassador to Damascus.

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