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Protect Syrian refugees

Syrians fleeing the capital to safety along the Turkish border.

ANKARA/BEIRUT — Turkey urged the United Nations today to protect displaced Syrians inside their country but President Bashar al-Assad, battling rebels determined to overthrow him, dismissed talk of a buffer zone on Syrian territory.

Ankara fears a mass influx such as the flight of half a million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War, and has floated the idea of a “safe zone” under foreign protection within Syria for civilians fleeing intensifying violence.

“We expect the United Nations to engage on the topic of protecting refugees inside Syria and if possible sheltering them in camps there,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

France has supported Turkey’s call for a safe zone in Syria, and pressure for action increased after the United Nations refugee agency said yesterday Syria’s refugee exodus was accelerating. Up to 200,000 people could settle in Turkey alone if the conflict worsens, the UNHCR said.

“When we talk about figures in the hundreds of thousands, this problem no longer remains a problem of an internal conflict in any one country but becomes an international dangerous problem,” said Davutoglu.

But the United States and other Western allies have shown little enthusiasm to provide the military and aerial support to police a no-fly zone which would most likely be needed to implement Turkey’s proposal.

Assad, in his first television interview since a bomb attack killed four of his top security officials on July 18, brushed off the idea of international intervention.

“I believe that talk about a buffer zone is not practical, even for those countries which are playing a hostile role (against Syria),” Assad said, according to excerpts of an interview with Syria’s Addounia TV broadcast today.

Assad also took a swipe at Turkey’s government which once cultivated good relations with Assad but turned against him over his violent response to the uprising in which at least 18,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations.

“Will we go backwards because of the ignorance of some Turkish officials? … (The Turkish people) have stood by us during the crisis,” Assad said.

Turkey already hosts more than 80,000 refugees and the UNHCR said up to 5,000 people a day had crossed the Turkish border in the last two weeks. The flow of refugees arriving in Jordan has also doubled, it said. (Reuters)

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