Turks protest Syria 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
GUVECCI, Turkey - A government offensive in Syria's northwest has sharply increased the flow of refugees into Turkey, with about 1,000 crossing in the last 24 hours, Turkish officials said on Thursday.
The numbers fleeing were expected to grow further as long as fighting continued around the town of Idlib, close to the Turkish border, one Turkish official said; but he declined to say how many more Turkey was expecting.
Turkey is wary of any military interventions in Syria, fearing a broader civil war could spill over its borders; but it has signaled that a tide of refugees is one of the factors that could trigger efforts to establish a 'safe zone' inside Syria.
Officials have said that the other red line for Turkey would be if Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces began massacres in Syrian cities. Turkey has said it would not take unilateral action and any initiative should come from the Arab League.
"There has been an increase in those fleeing from Syria to our country," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal told a news conference. "Yesterday, the number of people who had come was 13,700. This morning, the number is 14,700. This shows the seriousness of the situation in Syria." Among those who had fled was a general, the seventh top ranking Syrian officer to have defected to Turkey, Unal said.
A steady stream of refugees slips silently through gaps in the barbed wire fence that divides the two countries before settling down to rest on the Turkish side after their perilous journey through the hills dodging landmines and the Syrian army.
In response Turkey is to open a new refugee camp near the southern town of Kilis next month to host a further 10,000 Syrians, and work has begun on a camp near the eastern end of the border at Ceylanpinar for 20,000 people, the official said. That would bring the total capacity for Syrian refugees to some 45,000.
The Turkish government is now at the forefront of efforts to pressure Assad into stepping down or into agreeing to a negotiated end to the conflict.