Turkey Proposes Plan for Humanitarian Assistance Corridor in Syria

Article Summary
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu went to Washington and spoke with top American officials about the new Turkish approach to the Syrian crisis. His two tiered plan is composed of both a new international initiative to pressure the Syrian regime, and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to the cities of Homs and Hama. Interview by Asli Aydintasbas.

The dynamics of traditional Turkish-American relations have changed radically due to the crisis in Syria. Ankara believes that it is time for [Bashar al-] Assad to leave one way or another. Washington - currently in election mode and fatigued by the Arab Spring - doesn’t seem to be ready to take any steps to shake up the Assad regime, be it through a buffer zone or with more forceful diplomacy. This is why [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu’s 10-hour marathon of talks at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon yesterday were critical. In these talks Turkey laid out an ambitious plan with military, humanitarian and diplomatic components.

The plan calls for the Arab League and United Nations to oversee the opening of a humanitarian corridor to cities as Hama and Homs, which are currently besieged by the Syrian army. It also outlines the provision of food and other essentials by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

Foreign Minister [Davutoglu] revealed that the plan overall requires less military involvement than other potential measures, such as [the establishment of a safe zone]. [I spoke with Davutoglu about this plan]:

Milliyet  You frequently make references to Bosnia. Why?

Davutoglu  I warned about the Bosnian scenario after much reflection, because the situations of the armies in Egypt and Libya were different. What I see at risk in Syria is for the army between the people and the authoritarian regime to become an [independent] party [in the conflict]. [There is also the risk] of the emergence of a second army structure gathering the ranks of defectors. This is a typically Bosnian phenomenon. It is the logic of shelling a city with tanks and artillery from a distance if you can’t control that city.

This war logic is remnant of Middle Ages. The most striking modern example of this kind of mindset was the encircling and incessant bombing of Srebrenica and Sarajevo from a distance. That is why the Syrian army - given its national identity - must stay out of this strife, or otherwise protect these cities. Continuing shelling and daily changes authority are reminiscent of the Bosnian scenario.

Milliyet  What [is the nature of your plan]?

Davutoglu  We don’t want escalation, but rather seek to control events. For nine months, we tried all we could through engaging in dialogue with [the Syrian] regime. We then supported the Arab League initiative, but Syria responded by distancing itself from its own people and from the Arab world. It counts on Russian and Chinese support in the international arena, and on Iranian backing in the region. We are now working on a two-tiered plan with Arab League. One component of this plan is a new international initiative. It will be wide-scale effort that seeks to mobilize the conscience of the international community, and multiply the pressures faced by the regime.

Milliyet  But what good will this do for the people of Homs and Hama?

Davutoglu  The second tier of the plan is to activate humanitarian assistance mechanisms for these cities by working with the UN. We have launched an initiative with the UN in Geneva. I have already spoken with Ban ki-Moon and the Arab League, and we will talk again tomorrow. The road map will take shape on Wednesday.

Milliyet  How will the humanitarian aid reach the people?

Davutoglu  We need a decision at the UN, [but not at the Security Council where Russia has a veto]. Economic activity in these cities has totally ceased. Bakeries are closed, there is no food and there are no salaries. In Homs even those with steady income can’t find food and can’t meet their basic needs. We are hoping to reaching the people through the establishment of a safety corridor with participation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

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