Turkey ramps up its response to the crisis in Syria as the influx of refugees on the border grows, and they are reportedly lacking adequate food, water and shelter.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently strengthened his criticisms of the Syrian regime, spoke by phone Tuesday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to convey Ankara's concerns. In the conversation, Erdoğan once more urged al-Assad to stop the violent crackdown, while pressing him to schedule reforms the Syrian leader promised previously, Prime Ministry officials told the Hürriyet Daily News.
The flow of Syrian refugees to the Turkish border continued Monday and Tuesday. According to Turkish Foreign Ministry officials, a total of 8,538 Syrians have come to Turkey thus far, many fleeing violence in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour and surrounding villages in Syria.
The Syrians massed on the other side of the border, a group that includes many women and children, are trying to survive without drinkable water, food and shelter tents, observers said. They also claimed that many people are drinking water from the stream near the border, increasing the risk of epidemic illnesses in the area. Some of the Syrians are staying in hotels in cities close to the border, while others are crossing back and forth to try and secure supplies, the Daily News has learned.
Many people come to the Turkish villages close to the border in order to find water and bread. Men and children take bread from the villages and cross the border again to bring the food to their families. Residents of Güveççi village in Turkey are also buying bread and medicine every day and taking these supplies to the refugees waiting on the Syrian side of the border, as there is still not an organized aid flow to the people there.
"All these people would be dead if these villages didn't exist," a resident of Güveççi told the Daily News on Tuesday.
Ankara is expected to shift its Syrian policies following a coordinated meeting Monday between the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Ministry, chaired by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Ankara has once more pressed al-Assad to keep his distance from regime hardliners such as his brother, Maher al-Assad, the commander of the Republican Guard that has been accused of bloody assaults on civilians. Turkey has also urged the Syrian president to set a new election date and to allow other political parties to be involved in domestic politics.
Erdoğan also suggested that the general amnesty al-Assad announced be better implemented, the Daily News reported. In their conversation, Erdoğan also addressed the influx of Syrian people to Turkey and the pro-Assad demonstrations in front of the Turkish Embassy in Damascus and the Turkish Consulate General in Aleppo. Al-Assad congratulated Erdoğan on his party's election victory Sunday.
Hope for return
As officials debate their response to the turmoil, the situation appears to be worsening on the border, where some Syrians say they hope to return to their homes, while others claims they are being kept from crossing over into Turkey.
"We came three days ago from Jisr al-Shughour, and we have been staying under the trees near the border since then. Last night, it rained really heavily and all our children got wet in the rain," a Syrian refugee, identified by the initials B.S., said while taking five loaves of bread to his four children on the other side of the border. B.S., 34, said many children became sick because of the heavy rain Monday and there was no baby food left for the infants in the group.
"We want to enter Turkey, but they are taking us group by group. Right now there are not enough places for all of us, the Turkish authorities said, so thousands of people are kept waiting near the border," B.S. said.
Other Syrian refugees said they are waiting near the border because they still have hope that the situation might change in Syria.
"Some of us are from the nearby villages, and when al-Assad's soldiers attacked, we left everything behind before coming here. We fled only with the clothes we were wearing. We are still waiting to see if maybe the situation might become better and we can go back to our homes," said another refugee, H.A., 24.
Turkish soldiers are reportedly gathering near the border in Görentaş village as the Syrian army arrives in Taybed village, five kilometers from the Turkish border.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said all Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey will be given shelter, but the thousands amassed at the border cannot be accommodated all at once and must be taken across in smaller groups.
The unrest in Syria tops Ankara's post-election refocusing on the latest regional developments, an effort that is bringing 27 Turkish ambassadors to Middle East countries and some major Western capitals -- including the United States, Russia, France, Germany, England and permanent delegations to the United Nations, NATO and the European Union -- to Ankara on Wednesday for a brainstorming session to discuss uprisings in the region.
The issue was also discussed in Cabinet meetings Tuesday. Government Spokesman Cemil Çiçek said emphasizing Ankara's stance that Damascus should avoid the excessive use of force on protesters and reforms should be implemented immediately.
Prime Minister Erdoğan has said his country will not close its doors to Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey. An official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, likewise, said Ankara's open-door policy would continue despite the massive influx.
Some of the 15,000 Syrians who arrived in Hırıptıjöz village, next to the Turkish border, have been crossing into Turkey, the Doğan News Agency, or DHA, reported Tuesday.
Experts from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have arrived in Turkey's border province of Hatay to "investigate the abuses" in Syria. They are awaiting permission from the Turkish government, a U.N. official told the Daily News.
Since March 15, more than 1,200 anti-government protesters have died in Syria. And another 10,000 have been arrested, according to rights groups. Such numbers are difficult to verify since journalists are not allowed to circulate freely in the country.
Erdoğan, Assad Have Telephone Conversation
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan to congratulate him about his victory in Turkey's latest elections. During the conversation, Erdoğan warned Assad to avoid violence against opposition. Erdoğan emphasized his concerns about the flow of Syrian refugees to Turkey. Erdoğan also said that Turkey can accept, at most, 10,000 refugees; the current number is at 8,000. He also added that Assad should put a distance between himself and his brother Maher Assad.
Assad Envoy to Hold Talks with Turkey PM
An envoy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to hold talks on Wednesday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been urging the Damascus regime to halt its crackdown on protesters.
Erdoğan was supposed to host afternoon talks with envoy Hassan Turkmani in Ankara on "the developments in Syria," a government source told AFP.
The Turkish prime minister has traditionally enjoyed good relations with the Syrian leader, but he has been increasingly critical of the repression across the border.
In a phone call to Assad on Tuesday, Erdoğan urged him to "refrain from violence and end the unrest," according to Turkey's Anatolia News Agency.
Erdoğan last week accused the Syrian security forces of perpetrating an "atrocity" with their treatment of the bodies of women protesters who have been killed in the regime's efforts to quell revolt.
Thousands of Syrians have crossed over into Turkey in recent days, many of them fleeing a major army operation in the town of Jisr al-Shughur, roughly 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the border.
Erdoğan has said Turkey will "not close its doors" to the refugees.
Obama Congratulates Erdoğan on Election Victory
The White House has said that President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from Air Force One to congratulate the prime minister on the historic victory of his party in Turkey's June 12 parliamentary elections.
A statement by the White House said on Tuesday that the leaders noted the rich partnership and warm friendship between the United States and Turkey, and agreed to continue working closely together to develop an even stronger bilateral relationship.
CHP Organizing Performance Analysis Following Ballot Loss
The main opposition's failure to hit its 30 percent goal in Sunday's election has sparked an internal feud, with the party leader announcing he will call to account the organizations that were unsuccessful in the campaign.
The unsatisfactory results have also seen a "silent opposition" within the party, seen as a voice asking for a convention to change the leadership of the Republican People's Party (CHP). The party's administration has said a convention is not on its agenda.
The CHP's central executive board held a meeting the night of the elections to evaluate the party's performance. Party Chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu stated during the meeting that he would call to account the party's organizations and remove some organization members from duty, if necessary.
Kılıçdaroğlu has already given Gürsel Tekin, the deputy CHP leader in charge of the organization, instructions regarding the matter, asking for a performance analysis that is expected to lead to the firing of certain members who failed to do their tasks.
The CHP chief is also expected to continue his focus on personally visiting the citizenry in other areas outside of Ankara, especially the East Anatolia, Southeast Anatolia and Black Sea regions, where the party is weak. Kılıçdaroğlu is also expected to redesign the party's organizations in a possible convention in September to continue on a more democratic and free path in changing the CHP's internal regulations.
Opposition raises its voice
Former CHP leader, Deniz Baykal, is said to be disappointed with the election results, sparking the opposition's move within the party to speak out and demand a convention. "The results are not successful, the party must hold an extraordinary convention," former CHP Official Mustafa Özyürek told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Former CHP deputies Canan Arıtman and Şahin Mengü, and Party Assembly member Mesut Değer, also asked Monday for Kılıçdaroğlu's resignation.
The internal opposition needs 626 signatures to hold an extraordinary convention. Kılıçdaroğlu, however, is expected to start the convention period in September to avoid an "extraordinary" situation.
Relief Group Signals U-Turn on Gaza Plan
The aid ship, Mavi Marmara, has to wait a bit longer as a Turkish non-governmental organization is considering canceling its relief mission to the Gaza Strip.
A Turkish civil-society group appears to be backing away from its previous resolve to send a new aid flotilla to Gaza, saying Tuesday that it may cancel its plans depending on developments, especially in Syria.
"We are reconsidering our plans. We cannot close our eyes to the developments on our doorstep," Hüseyin Oruç, a board member of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) and the spokesman for the new flotilla, told the Hürriyet Daily News. The group had previously demonstrated a firm insistence on sending the Mavi Marmara, the vessel on which nine people were killed last year in an Israeli raid on an earlier flotilla, back to Gaza in late June.
"Our goal is not to set sail to Gaza. We think we can serve the purpose by sending a ship or canceling it," Oruç said. "We'll make our decision by the end of this week."
Twenty-two vessels from different countries, including the Mavi Marmara, are set to meet in international waters close to the southern parts of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on June 27 before sailing to Gaza, according to the initial plans. The international activists involved in the new flotilla will meet in Athens this weekend, Oruç said.
"We will discuss the emerging conditions. Every country has its own balance. From our point of view, the developments in neighboring Syria are critically important," he told the Daily News."The international community is talking about an intervention in Syria, a development that would affect Turkey very much, as well as Palestine and peace in the region. All the factors are inter-linked, and we must be looking at all of them," Oruç added.
The İHH insists that the Turkish government did not interfere in the flotilla plans, but Ankara's call to the group to reconsider sending a ship to Gaza is believed to have been influential on their current position.
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu urged the flotilla's organizers to see how the Egyptian opening of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, as well as the intra-Palestinian unity between rival factions Hamas and al-Fatah, has affected the situation before heading to the blockaded strip. That was the first time the government had suggested flotilla organizers should reconsider their plans.
"The government's warnings should not be regarded as strange," Oruç said.
Turkey a 'Rising Power,' German Newspaper Says
German magazine der Spiegel published an editorial about Turkey's elections, calling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a "charismatic leader" and Turkey "the rising power of the Bosphorus."
Der Spiegel published an editorial on Wednesday and evaluated the election results in Turkey, the Daily Miliyet reported on its website.
The editorial, titled "Rising Power on the Bosphorus," explained Turkey's performance in numbers, comparing it with Turkey's neighboring countries and other European nations. The data included 2010 growth rates, ratio of public to national income, age structure and unemployment rates.
Attached to the piece was a map of the Middle East and Southeast Europe that showed the performances of the countries mentioned. The map also showed the greatest extent of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.
Der Spiegel made a summary of the election process in Turkey and said the economic boom experienced in the country during the last nine years helped the ruling Justice and Development Part (AKP) come out victorious. "Most who voted for the AKP believed Erdoğan's promise to double national income in the coming years," it said.