(Adds details of pro-government rally in sixth paragraph. See EXTRA and MET for more on the regional unrest.)
June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Turkey has turned down offers of international aid to help it cope with an influx of Syrian refugees that has increased since President Bashar al-Assad’s forces stepped up an attack on the town of Jisr al-Shughour.
Syrians have been crossing the border for a week to escape the violence, with the Turkish state-run Anatolia news agency putting the total in Turkey at 8,421 today, up from 122 on June 8. The military used troops and tanks to seal off Jisr al- Shughour and other areas of the north and east, the Associated Press reported, citing activists and witnesses. Residents of Maarat al-Nuhman began fleeing today as the army prepared an assault on the town, Al Arabiya television reported.
The United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, the European Union and the U.S. have offered to assist in aiding the refugees. Turkey’s Red Crescent can currently accommodate about 8,785 people. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has promised to keep the border open, talked with Assad yesterday and expressed apprehension about the refugee inflow.
“I’m astounded that UNHCR is offering to help and Turkey says we don’t need it,” said Kemal Kirisci, a professor of international relations at Bogazici University in Istanbul. “Maybe this stems from Syria’s special status and Turkey doesn’t want to involve the international community, but this is an international crisis.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit the camps holding Syrian refugees on his country’s southern border today, Anatolia said.
Thousands of Assad supporters today gathered on the Mazeh boulevard, one of the main arteries that cuts through Damascus. Organizers unfurled a giant Syrian flag that stretched 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) in the area, which houses colleges, government offices and embassies. State television showed Syrians chanting pro-government slogans.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem will arrive in the capital today and Assad’s envoy Hassan Ali Turkmani, former defense minister, will meet Erdogan later today, according to state-run TRT television and Anatolia.
Protests against Assad’s rule began in mid-March, part of a wave of demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa this year that have unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. Attacks on Syrian protesters have escalated since the U.S. and European Union placed sanctions on senior officials last month.
Numbers May Hold
The U.S. is ready to help Turkey, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said during a June 13 briefing, when he described the developments in Syria as “abhorrent.” Raphael Brigandi, a spokesman for the European Commission, said Turkey is able to care for the refugees and that the EU stands ready to help with humanitarian aid, Anatolia reported yesterday.
“We are currently meeting the needs of Syrians coming to Turkey,” Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said yesterday in a televised news conference. “Our expectation is for the number of refugees to hold at current levels and for the situation to be resolved before there’s a need for the United Nations or other international organizations to step in.”
A total of 1,297 Syrian civilians and 340 members of the army and security forces have been killed since the protests started, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today on its website. Most of the inhabitants of Jisr al-Shughour have fled, according to the London-based group.
Opposition supporters and local residents have said the members of the security forces were executed in the northwestern town of 50,000 after refusing to fire on pro-democracy protesters, and described random shootings and the torching of fields by Assad’s troops.
The government met late yesterday to discuss Jisr al- Shughour, accusing “terrorist gangs” of leading the killings, the Syrian Arab News Agency said. The government called on residents of the northwestern town and neighboring villages to return, and instructed the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to contact its Turkish counterpart to assist, according to SANA.
--With assistance from Nayla Razzouk in Amman and David Lerman in Washington. Editor: Andrew J. Barden
To contact the reporter on this story: Emre Peker in Ankara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden in Dubai at email@example.com.