Turkish minister urges fight against extremists in Syria

AP News
Posted: Mar 05, 2015 7:38 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The world never had a plan to end the worsening Syrian conflict, Turkey's prime minister said Thursday.

Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference that all countries should fight the Islamic State group but also keep Syria's government from committing "war crimes" in Aleppo, Syria's largest city. He warned that if the attacks in Aleppo continue, "there may be hundreds of thousands of refugees approaching to Turkey," which already hosts two million Syrians who have fled.

Davutoglu praised the plan for a freeze in fighting in Aleppo recently proposed by U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura but said the Syrian government wasn't keeping its promises. The fragile plan would have the government and opposition stop heavy-weapons attacks throughout the city for six weeks so that the U.N. could deliver unhindered aid, but the opposition in Aleppo has rejected it. They fear the Syrian government will use the pause in fighting to regroup elsewhere.

The Turkish prime minister accused the Syrian government of increasing airstrikes on Aleppo in recent days because the government "has been spoiled" by the easing of international pressure as the world's focuses on fighting the Islamic State group.

He said that even if a freeze in hostilities is achieved in Aleppo, it doesn't mean anything significant for people suffering in other Syrian cities, and he urged a comprehensive solution to the crisis, which enters its fifth year this month.

The Syrian people should not be forced to "make a choice between a brutal regime and a brutal terrorist organization," Davutoglu said. "There is a need of a third option, a moderate political solution."

The U.N. estimates that 220,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has been further complicated by the rise last year of the Islamic State group in Syria's north and east.

More than 3 million people have fled Syria into neighboring countries including Turkey, and those countries have warned that they are severely overstretched. Davutoglu said Turkey has spent $5 billion on those living in camps.

"No country has been affected more than Turkey because of the Syrian crisis," he said.

As worries soar about foreign fighters entering the conflict in Syria and then returning to launch attacks at home, the prime minister said his country last year deported about 2,000 people and blocked about 10,000 from entering. He gave no further details.

Davutoglu said Turkey expects the international community to do more to resolve the Syrian conflict "because that is the source of all the evils," and it expects more cooperation on intelligence to keep would-be foreign fighters from entering the country.

But the U.N. Security Council has been almost completely blocked from taking action because of the threat of a veto from permanent member Russia, a close ally of Syria's Assad regime.

In a public discussion Thursday night at the Council on Foreign Relations, Davutoglu turned down the idea of putting Turkish ground troops inside Syria, saying, "Why Turkey should take risks if there is no grand strategy accepted by all?"

He called for arming Syria's moderate opposition and lamented that the United States and its European allies didn't do it four years ago.