February 8, 2012 / 3:23 PM / 7 years ago

Turkey urges aid for Homs, Syria conference

ANKARA (Reuters) - The international community must send a strong message of support to Syrians under artillery attack from government forces, particularly the opposition bastion of Homs, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters.

Turkey was ready to host an international conference to support the Syrian people, and to send a message to President Bashar al-Assad to halt an 11-month crackdown on his opponents.

History taught that leaders who fired on their own people did not survive, Davutoglu added in an interview shortly before he was due to leave for the United States for talks on Syria.

He said that if the U.N. Security Council failed to protect civilians, then like-minded countries should find ways to end the killing and deliver aid to civilians trapped by military assault, especially those in Homs.

“We definitely want to have this meeting in our region showing concerns and the sensitivities and solidarity and regional ownership, maybe in Turkey, maybe in another country,” Davutoglu said.

“It is not enough being an observer. It is time now to send a strong message to the Syrian people that we are with them.

“We are ready to help them, and (give) a message to the Syrian regime that they cannot continue these methods of oppression,” he said.

Davutoglu, fluent in Arabic and English, has emerged as a key diplomatic firefighter as Turkey, NATO’s most important Muslim member, exerts growing influence in a crisis-ridden region.

Turkey worked closely with the Arab League to help formulate a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria that was vetoed by Russia and China on Saturday.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who had described the veto as a “fiasco” also telephoned Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday to discuss the results of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meeting a day earlier with Assad in Damascus.

Davutoglu said the U.N. Security Council should be taking action but the issue had become a “bargaining chip” among the five permanent members.

“What will be happening if thousands of Syrians are being killed every day? Now it’s hundreds, it is a very bad scenario,” he said.


Asked whether the escalating violence was nearing the point where Turkey would consider establishing a buffer zone inside Syria, or enforcing a humanitarian corridor, Davutoglu said: “Yes, we are very very worried... Now, it is hundreds of people are being killed daily.

“We are worried what will be happening next week, next month, and Turkey is directly concerned.”

He said Turkey was currently providing refuge for some 12,000 Syrians who had fled their homeland, but the people in direst need were those left behind.

“All the international community should work together to help Syrian people, especially those who are not able to come to Turkey, or go to Jordan or other countries.

“But especially those who cannot even go from one street to another street in Homs. You have pictures of children running from one house to another house while under artillery attack.”

Assad’s forces intensified their attacks on Homs after the Security Council resolution was vetoed, and the United Nations estimates that well over 5,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March last year. The Turkish prime minister’s office put the toll at more than 7,000.

Erdogan had cultivated Assad as a friend, but late last year called for him to step down, as the Syrian leader had failed to heed repeated advice to make urgent reforms and halt the crackdown.

Asked under what circumstances Turkish troops could be ordered onto Syrian soil, Davutoglu said that point had not been reached and military intervention in Syria was a matter for countries of the region and the international community.

“Now it is still time for diplomatic efforts, and we are using all diplomatic means,” he said.

Turkish officials have previously said Ankara could consider enforcing a buffer zone or no-fly zone in Syria, if there was a huge influx of refugees that threatened to destabilize the neighbor’s long border and put Turkey’s own security at risk, or if Assad’s forces carried out massacres in cities.

Davutoglu, a professor of political history, was unsure how long Assad could cling to power but saw an inevitable end.

“If a leader or regime fights against their own people, they cannot survive. This is the principle of history.”

Editing by Jon Boyle

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