Turkey calls on UN to create 'safe zone' in Syria

Davutoglu says Ankara may soon be unable to cope with refugees; Assad troops launch offensive near Damascus.

August 20, 2012 12:31
2 minute read.
Syrian refugees: Islahiye camp in Gazintep, Turkey

Syrian refugees at Islahiye camp in Gazintep, Turkey 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)


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ISTANBUL - The United Nations may need to create a "safe zone" within Syria to accommodate a growing number of refugees from the fighting there, Turkey's foreign minister was quoted as saying on Monday.

Turkey, already hosting nearly 70,000 Syrians fleeing the 17-month-old revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad, may soon be unable to cope,Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told country's Hurriyet newspaper.

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"If the number of refugees in Turkey surpasses 100,000, we will run out of space to accommodate them. We should be able to accommodate them in Syria. The United Nations may build camps in a safe zone within Syria's borders," he was quoted as saying.

Syrian rebels have expanded the territory they hold near the Turkish border in the last few weeks and opposition groups have said they need the protection of no-fly zones and safe havens patrolled by foreign forces.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said earlier this month that Washington and Turkey were looking at all measures to help the insurgents, including a no-fly zone, although no member of the UN Security Council has formally proposed such a move and the option has gained little traction so far.

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A no-fly zone and a NATO bombing campaign helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. The West has shown little appetite for repeating any Libya-style action in Syria, and Russia and China strongly oppose any such intervention.

Davutoglu was quoted as saying Turkey would attend a ministerial meeting of UN Security Council members planned for Aug. 30 and would abide by any decisions made at the meeting.

Tanks pound Damascus suburb, rebels fight back

Meanwhile, Syrian tanks shelled the rebel-held Damascus suburb of al-Mouadamiya on Monday killing at least three people and wounding 20, opposition activists in the area said.

"The offensive began at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT). Tanks were dispatched from al-Mezze airport base and Brigade 555 from Somarieh and have now almost surrounded Mouadamiya," Haya, one activist, said by telephone, referring to nearby military bases.

The rebels had repelled at least one attempt by a tank unit to enter the southwestern suburb, the activist said.

Video footage posted on YouTube showed no movement in the streets of the large township of low-rise buildings, with the silence broken only by the sound of shelling.

Syrian troops entered Mouadamiya at the end of July after a two-day offensive in which more than 120 people were killed, according to residents and opposition activists.

But then, as in other areas around Damascus, rebels began to regain control after the army pulled out for missions elsewhere.

Assad's forces launched a counter-attack against rebels who had seized chunks of the capital after a July 18 bombing killed four of the Syrian leader's top aides.

Troops are still battling for control of Syria's biggest city, Aleppo.

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