Friday 27 July 2012

Aleppo battle as Turkey’s gateway to Syria

Clockwise from top, Erdogan, Ikhlas al-Badawi and Tlass with Davutoglu

Would the “Mother of all Battles” in Aleppo between the Syrian army and rebel forces “give birth” to a Turkish thrust into Syrian territory?
I suspect it could.
It is a battle neither side can afford to lose. For President Bashar al-Assad, losing the country’s largest city and economic heart, would break his back. For the armed insurgents, losing their Benghazi would be a devastating setback.
Either way, a flood of Aleppo refugees into next-door Turkey, where the headquarters of the opposition Free Syrian Army is based, could push Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to carve up either a buffer zone or a humanitarian corridor in Syria.
Turkey, already home to almost 50,000 refugees, is on record saying it would weigh plans to establish a security zone within Syrian territory if it were faced with a massive influx of refugees – which, in this case, could be triggered by the battle for Aleppo.
Erdogan also accused Syria on Thursday of giving Kurdish rebels a free hand in its northern provinces and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike.
“In the north, it (Assad’s regime) allotted five provinces to the Kurds, to the terrorist organization,” Erdogan said, referring to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
He said the move was explicitly directed against Turkey and warned, “There will undoubtedly be a response on our part.” 
“This could be one of the alternatives. A security zone, a buffer zone all these could be part of the alternatives,” he said, without elaborating.
There are reports the regime is about to turn over control of the all-important city of Qamishli to the PKK and its Syrian arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Qamishli is in northeastern Syria on the border with Turkey, adjoining the Turkish city of Nusaybin, and close to Iraq. It is regarded as the secret capital of the Syrian Kurds.
Erdogan would probably invoke the 1998 Adana Agreement with Syria to justify a military thrust.
The governments of Turkey and Syria signed the Adana Agreement on October 20, 1998. In it, Damascus not only agreed to recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization but also pledged to cease all aid to the PKK and to deport its leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is now serving a life sentence in a Turkish jail.
Interestingly, a Syrian legislator representing the province of Aleppo said on Friday she has defected to Turkey, becoming the first member of the rubberstamp assembly elected in May and dominated by Assad's Baath Party to defect.
“I crossed to Turkey and defected from this tyrannical regime... because of the repression and savage torture against a nation demanding the minimum of rights,” Ikhlas al-Badawi, a mother of six, told Sky News Arabia.
Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, the most senior defector from Assad's regime, arrived in Ankara for consultations yesterday.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Tlass joined Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for Iftar (the meal breaking the day's fast during Ramadan).
Tlass appeared briefly with Davutoglu at an official guesthouse, but made no statement.