Against a bloody conflict that shows no signs of abating in Syria, Turkey’s prime minister said that Istanbul is considering setting up a “security” or “buffer zone” along its border with Syria.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that in addition to creating a “buffer zone,” Istanbul may withdraw its ambassador from Damascus after his citizens have returned safely home.
Turkish citizens in Syria were told by their foreign ministry to return to Turkey as soon as possible which added it was closing the consular section of its Damascus embassy next week.
“Developments in Syria pose serious security risks for our nationals,” the ministry said in a statement. “Therefore it is strongly recommended that Turkish nationals currently in Syria leave and return home.”
Clashes in Damascus
Syrian troops clashed with army defectors in several areas near the capital Damascus in the first significant battles there since President Bashar Assad’s forces regained control of the suburbs weeks ago, activists said Friday.
The clashes highlight the shifting nature of the Syrian conflict, with rebel fighters igniting new fronts soon after the regime turns its attention elsewhere.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clash in Tal, on the outskirts of the capital, lasted until the early hours of Friday. The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees said there were also clashes in other areas near Damascus, including Dumair and Qatana on Thursday night.
Both groups also reported clashes between troops and army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army in the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour that borders Iraq. They said one person was killed.
In early February, Assad’s troops launched a major military campaign during which regime forces put the suburbs surrounding capital under government control. The attack on the Damascus countryside was followed by a regime offensive to expel rebel forces from the Baba Amr district of Homs and Idlib in northern Syria.
Activists call for intervention
Meanwhile, activists called for rallies across Syria on Friday to demand “immediate military intervention” as U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan prepared to brief the divided U.N. Security Council on his peace efforts.
Gulf Arab states announced they were following Riyadh’s lead in closing their Damascus embassies in protest at the violence, which monitors said Thursday on the first anniversary of its outbreak has cost more than 9,100 lives.
Activists called on their Facebook page, Syrian Revolution 2011, for nationwide protests after weekly Muslim prayers to demand “immediate military intervention by the Arabs and Muslims, followed by the rest of the world.”
Huge rallies in support of President Bashar al-Assad were held in Damascus and other major cities on Thursday to mark the anniversary.
But numbers have fallen at anti-regime demonstrations as security forces seize protest centers such as Idlib in northwest Syria after heavy shelling and bloody assaults.
With the opposition divided, Western countries have been opposed to military intervention although Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Assad’s fiercest critics in the Arab world, have come out in favor of arming the rebels.
Ahead of U.N. participation in a Syrian-led humanitarian mission to protest cities at the weekend, Annan was to give a videoconference briefing to the Security Council from Geneva at 1400 GMT on his talks with Assad in Damascus.
The briefing came amid mounting pessimism among diplomats of Western governments that have spearheaded demands for tough action about his mission's prospects for success.
The former U.N. chief has received a response to the “concrete proposals” he submitted to the Syrian leader last weekend but has more “questions and is seeking answers,” his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.