"Shamgen," a step toward creation of a free trade area between Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, officially came to an end due to the rising tensions between Turkey and Syria, according to a Central Bank official.
The plan, inspired by the European Union Schengen Agreement, was launched eight months ago.
"Shamgen included the development of close bonds between Central Banks of the member countries including Syria, but as part of the sanctions imposed on Syria it came to an end officially," the Central Bank source told the Hürriyet Daily News.
The Turkish Central Bank has suspended all ties with the Syrian Central Bank within the scope of Turkey's economic sanctions unveiled by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Wednesday.
Taking its name from the word "Sham," the classical Arabic name for Syria, the ambitious project began with Turkey signing free-trade and visa-exemption agreements with Syria, Jordon and Lebanon in 2007, 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Turkey's Central Bank had organized the Enhancing Shamgen Banking conference in Istanbul on March 28 and 29, bringing together top officials of central banks from the Shamgen member states.
"Although this conference is a step toward improving relations between the banking sectors of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan in the short term, it is expected to contribute to the formation of a single market with the inclusion of other countries in the region in an area circumscribed by the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Mediterranean," Turkey's then-Central Bank Gov. Durmuş Yılmaz said at the conference.
Government Under Fire for Syria Policies
Turkey's main opposition Friday charged that sanctions slapped on Syria would deal a blow on trade and raised questions over Syrian refugee camps as news emerged that they had been equipped with winter-proof tents that the quake victims lacked in Van.
In a written response to a parliamentary question, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said the tents initially erected for the Syrians had been replaced with new carpeted ones "that can withstand all climate conditions [-20 degrees Celsius]," and that the refugees had been provided with winter clothes and extra blankets.
Winter temperatures in Hatay vary between eight and 12 degrees Celsius during the day and between three and four degrees at night, even though they can sometimes fall to below five degrees, Şahin said. The expenditure for the refugees is provided by the Disaster and Emergency Fund, which has so far allocated 20.7 million Turkish Liras, he said.
Ali Özgündüz, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, lawmaker who submitted the question to Şahin, said: "Cold-proof tents are being sent to Hatay, even though the weather there is mild, while the poor people in Van are freezing in summer tents."
Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, he said the government appeared to cater to the members of the Syrian opposition, who are also taking shelter at the camps in Hatay.
"I wonder whether they are providing all that comfort to the dissidents who are being trained in the camps so that they can go to Syria and do their mission easily," he said.
Slamming the government's approach to Syria after Ankara announced a series of sanctions against Damascus, CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu renewed charges that Syrian dissidents were receiving military training in Turkey as part of policies dictated by Western powers.
"Why are we meddling so much in someone else's problems when we have so many problems of our own?" he said. "Does it suit Turkey to have armed forces being trained in Turkey to make trouble in another country? It is not right."
CHP lawmakers representing Hatay warned that the population of the border province would suffer the most because of Ankara's sanctions as they hit commercial relations.
"You cannot just ignore the 2 million Hatay citizens in the name of being a U.S. sub-contractor," Hatay Deputy Mevlüt Dudu said. "There is no guarantee that the internal strife that is being staged in Syria today will not be put in action in our country too."
Hatay Deputy Mehmet Ali Ediboğlu said the investments of Turkish businessmen in Syria "have been thrown in danger" and major financial losses could follow. He rejected suggestions the CHP was siding with Bashar al-Assad and said all parties in Syria must renounce violence and go to elections to decide the country's rulers.
Flood of Sanctions Fails to Halt Syrian Bloodshed
The embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday pressed on with a deadly crackdown on dissent even as a flood of fresh sanctions further isolated Damascus.
Activists said Syrian forces in the flashpoint provinces of Idlib and Homs killed 14 civilians, while in the southern Daraa province, the cradle of eight months of anti-regime unrest, a blast killed seven security forces.
The latest violence came as the world's largest Islamic body, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, urged member Syria to cooperate with the Arab League and allow a team of observers to visit the country.
The League imposed sanctions on the Damascus regime Sunday after it defied an ultimatum to accept observers under a plan to halt the crackdown, which the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March.
After emergency talks on Syria, a statement by the OIC urged Damascus to "immediately stop using excessive force against civilians" and to "respond to the decisions of the Arab League."
Speaking after the meeting OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said the group "urged Syria to stop violating human rights and to allow Islamic and international human organizations access to Syria."
Turkey, following the lead of Arab states, also announced Wednesday a raft of sanctions against Syria winning praise from Washington which said the action will further isolate al-Assad's embattled regime.
"The leadership shown by Turkey in response to the brutality and violation of the fundamental rights of the Syrian people will isolate the al-Assad regime," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoğlu announced the sanctions including an immediate ban on all transactions with the Damascus government and central bank and freezing all Syrian state assets in Turkey.
Similar measures would also be taken against "some well-known businessmen who are strong advocates of the Syrian regime," he said, adding that sanctions will also include a ban on Syrian officials visiting Turkey.
The Arab League, which suspended Syria's membership in November, approved unprecedented sanctions against Syria, including a freeze on government assets, suspending cooperation with Syria's central bank and halting funding for projects in the country.
On Wednesday a League committee met at the pan-Arab bloc's Cairo headquarters to decide on a list of Syrian officials who will be banned from Arab countries and whose bank accounts will be frozen.
They were also due to decide on when to implement a decision to end all flights to and from Syria and a list of necessary foodstuffs that will be excluded from the ban on trade with Syria's government.
Syria is also facing United States and European Union sanctions -- the EU is set to beef up punitive oil and financial measures against Damascus on Thursday, a move diplomats said was aimed at choking Syrian sources of funding.
They will include bans on exporting gas and oil industry equipment to Syria, trading Syrian government bonds and selling software that could be used to monitor Internet and telephone communications.
The U.S. has slapped Syria with a package of sanctions, including a freeze on government assets, a ban on citizens from doing business with the country, as well as a ban on the sale of telecommunications equipment to Syria.
The slew of sanctions appear to have had little impact on the regime in Syria, where the death toll rose again on Wednesday. Security forces killed nine civilians in the northwestern Idlib province, including a 12-year-old boy and a woman, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Five other civilians were killed by gunfire in separate incidents in the central city of Homs. And seven members of the security forces were killed in clashes with army deserters in the Daraa town of Dael, the Britain-based group said, adding that their vehicle had been blown up. More than 164 people were also arrested in Dael where security forces carried out search operations, the group said, adding that 19 people were wounded by gunfire.
State television meanwhile reported that authorities released 912 people who were involved in anti-regime unrest but have "no blood on their hands, the third batch freed this month."
In Jeddah the OIC expressed frustration at the unending bloodshed and raised concerns about the international response to the crisis in Syria at the start of its meeting.
"We also refuse any military intervention and affirm our respect to Syria and its sovereignty and welcome international and Arab efforts" to reach a solution, the head of the OIC said.
Just days after UN-appointed investigators accused Syrian security forces of crimes against humanity, including the torture of children, the UN Human Rights Council said it will hold a special session on Syria.
Friday's meeting -- the third by the council on Syria this year -- will be convened following a request by the European Union, a diplomatic source said. Human rights group Amnesty International called on the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
"It is high time for the UN Security council to take action," the group's Middle East campaigner Maha Abu Shama said.
Amnesty International is pressing for an arms embargo, asset freezes against al-Assad and his associates, as well as an investigation by the ICC.
Ankara Expresses Radar Unease to Tehran
Ankara conveyed its unease to Tehran over the remarks of Gen. Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the aerospace unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, who warned last week that Iran would target NATO missile defense installations in Turkey's Malatya province if the United States or Israel attacked.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu conveyed to his Iranian counterpart Turkey's disturbance over recent Iranian threats to attack installations in Turkey when the two met in Jeddah on Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the air force commander's remarks did not reflect Tehran's official position, a diplomatic source said.
Davutoğlu and Salehi met on the sidelines of an Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, ministerial meeting that focused on developments in Syria.T he two foreign ministers discussed Syria particularly, and Davutoğlu reaffirmed Turkey's stance on Syria, the source said.
Iranian officials have long criticized Ankara for deploying a U.S.-led NATO early warning radar system in its territories, but it was the first time a high ranking military official from Iran warned of a military act against Turkey.
Erdogan's Meeting with Biden Uncertain
As United States Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to land in Ankara late Thursday, his meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was still not fixed due to the Turkish premier's health conditions.
"The two can still meet in Istanbul, depending on the prime minister's doctors' consent," a source from the prime minister's office told the Hürriyet Daily News Friday.
Biden was set to arrive in Turkey for two days of talks with President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan. He will also attend an entrepreneurship conference with the Turkish prime minister Saturday in Istanbul. However, Erdoğan's program was not finalized late Thursday as he was recovering in his home in Istanbul after a Nov. 26 surgery on his digestive system.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who held a phone conversation with the prime minister Friday, said Erdoğan would probably return to his office Monday to chair the weekly cabinet meeting. Arınç said Erdoğan's state of health was very good.
Despite Arınç's words, prime ministry sources said Erdoğan's return to Ankara on Monday was not a definite decision and Arınç's statement "is not based on a medical assessment" by doctors.
The prime minister is "unlikely to deliver a speech" at the Second Global Summit on Entrepreneurship on Saturday, which figures on the program of the event, the source said.
United States Nuclear Weapons in Turkey Decreased
There are fewer atomic weapons deployed in southern Turkey's İncirlik Airbase today than there were 10 years ago, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a non-technical online magazine that covers global security and public policy issues.
"Turkey hosts an estimated 60 to 70 B61 tactical [non-strategic] nuclear weapons at İncirlik Airbase, down from the 2001 level of 90 weapons," the report said.
The report also said most of the bombs, approximately 50, are for delivery by United States aircraft, but the U.S. Air Force does not have a fighter wing based at İncirlik because Turkey's has not permitted the deployment of a fighter wing there.
In a crisis, U.S. aircraft from other bases would have to first deploy to İncirlik to pick up the weapons stored at the site before they could be used. The remaining 10-20 bombs at İncirlik are earmarked for delivery by Turkish F-16A/Bs. The report said Turkey's F-16s were slated to be replaced by F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) beginning in 2015.
"According to Pentagon sources, Turkey currently uses its F-16s to execute the nuclear mission. Moreover, until Turkey acquires a sufficient number of nuclear-capable JSFs over 15 years, its F-16s are scheduled to receive a 'stop-gap' upgrade to make them capable of carrying the new B61-12 bomb that will replace the B61-3/4 beginning in 2017," the report said.
Until 1995, Akıncı in central Turkey and Balıkesir in western Turkey, also stored U.S. nuclear weapons for delivery, but roughly 40 weapons were later moved to İncirlik, the report said.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by former Manhattan Project physicists after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
21 Turks Killed in U.S. Drone Attack
Twenty-one Turks fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan border have been killed in air strikes by the United States in Afghanistan, according to reports.
Gazavat Media, a jihadist propaganda Web site, released a statement that announced the deaths of 21 "Turkish mujahedeen affiliated with the Haqqani group," according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The statement was released on jihadist Web forums on Wednesday. The date of the deaths and the exact location was not disclosed.
PakTribune, a news service based in Pakistan, meanwhile reported that a U.S. drone fired two missiles into Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border on Wednesday, killing at least 21 suspected militants, including foreigners.
"The dead included local Taliban as well as some Arabs and Uzbek nationals," one intelligence official in North Waziristan told the news network on the condition of anonymity.
The report by the Gazavat Media, however, announced the names of 18 of the Turks killed.
"It was confirmed that the number of the Turkish mujahedeen affiliated with the Haqqani group was 21, and that there were also mujahedeen heavily wounded in the attack," the statement said. The Turkish fighters were killed in a so-called "low-intensity chemical weapon attack," but did not provide any further details.
Eighteen of the fighters were identified by name while the remaining three have yet to be identified. The statement said the 21 Turkish fighters were members of one of several "mujahideen units" that operate along the Afghan-Pakistan border, attacking the "occupiers."
Musa Üzer, secretary-general of the Free Thought and Education Rights Association, or Özgür-Der, an Istanbul-based Islamist organization, told the Hürriyet Daily News Friday that they were "proud of our martyrs."
"They were in the war zone voluntarily to stand up against the imperialists' occupation of the Muslim world," Üzer said. "Their fighting is self-defense in the name of God and jihad."
Üzer said the Turkish government and state had nothing to do with the "jihadists" being there.
"The Taliban is not a terrorist organization and our martyrs were not terrorists," he said. "The imperialist powers think that they can invade any Muslim soil at will, but they will face self-defense and resistance on every front."
According to a report on the Long War Journal Web site, the Turks killed were members of Victorious Sect, a transnational Turkish jihadist group that operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border and is based in North Waziristan.
The Victorious Sect was established in 2009 by the Islamic Jihad Union, a splinter faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, to accommodate the increasing influx of European foreign fighters in the region. Scores of German and other European fighters also belong to the Victorious Sect, the report said.