Syria unofficially agrees to a buffer zone along the Turkish border
Syria has agreed to keep its army six miles from the Turkish border following deadly shelling incidents earlier this week, Turkish media has reported.
Syria has not formally confirmed the agreement and Ankara did not make an official announcement but several Turkish media groups confirmed that an agreement had been reached.
Such an agreement would create a buffer zone to allow rebels to operate freely and civilians to seek refuge. Opposition groups have implored Turkey and the international community for months to create an area in which they could move without fear of jets and helicopters. This development is a significant step in their battle to overturn Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
According to military strategists and war zone experts, a buffer zone would not be completely safe and effective unless enforced militarily – something that Turkey is not currently prepared to do. However, after tensions between the two former allies escalated on 2nd October, when Syrian shelling killed two Turkish women and three children, Ankara is recalibrating its military options in order to deal with the crisis and civil war across its southern border. As a consequence, on Thursday the Turkish parliament approved a bill allowing its armed forces to launch cross-border actions at any point in the next year.
Hours after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Syria not to test Turkey’s patience, another mortar shell struck Turkish territory, Anadolu, the country’s state-run news agency, reported.
Another mortar shell hit inside the Turkish border yesterday, near the village of Asagipulluyaz in Hatay province. There were no casualties, but Turkish troops immediately fired back.
In a bellicose speech in Istanbul on Friday, Erdoğan said: “Those who attempt to test Turkey’s deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake. We are not interested in war, but we’re not far from war either.” He then added: “This nation has come to where it is today having gone through intercontinental wars”.
Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952 and is also a former ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Now, the Middle Eastern country is asking him to quit, as the effects of 19 months of civil war become increasingly evident in the nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees that Turkey hosts in camps on its territory.
Turkey’s decision to enter the conflict would be disastrous for Bashar al-Assad, as Turkey armed forces are far larger and better-equipped than Syria’s.
The United Nations Security Council have condemned the Syrian shelling and asked both countries to restrain the use of force. “This incident highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbors and on regional peace and security,” a statement released on the 4th October implored. The council demanded that “such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated.”
All international efforts to stop the Syrian conflict have so far failed. Now in the 19th month of civil war, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the current death toll at more than 30,000 lives.