Turkey accuses Syrian regime of ‘atrocity’ amid rise in refugees crossing border


Turkey accused Syria Friday of perpetrating an “atrocity” against anti-regime protesters as a new offensive threatened to increase the flow of refugees crossing the border.

“Unfortunately they do not behave humanely,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks carried by Anatolia news agency, slamming the treatment of the bodies of women slain by Syrian security forces as an “atrocity.”

“I talked to (Syrian President Bashar Al Assad) four or five days ago,” said Mr. Erdogan, a personal friend of the Syrian leader. “But they underestimate the situation.”

“Upon all these we cannot insist on (defending) Syria,” he added.

It was Turkey’s harshest reaction yet to the Syrian turmoil, which has forced more than 3,000 people to seek refuge across the border in Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan had earlier piled pressure on Mr. Assad to initiate reform, but stopped short of calling for his departure.

Turkey’s ties with its southern neighbor have flourished under Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government, and Ankara has argued for a democratic transition led by Mr. Assad.

However President Abdullah Gul said Friday that Turkey’s civilian and military leadership was prepared “for the worst scenarios,” without elaborating.

“Unfortunately, it is obvious that things (in Syria) are not developing in the right direction,” he said.

The Syrian army Friday launched an operation against “armed gangs” in the flashpoint town of Jisr Al Shughur, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Turkish border, where authorities say 120 police and troops were massacred, Syrian state television said.

Rights activists said most of Jisr Al Shughur’s 50,000 inhabitants had fled—many to Turkey—when tanks and troops began converging on the northwestern town midweek, leaving it largely deserted.

The influx to Turkey accelerated Tuesday and more than 3,000 people are now sheltered in three tent cities in the border province of Hatay, a Turkish government official said Friday.

The refugees—overwhelmingly elderly people, children and women—are met at the frontier by paramilitary police and transported either to the camps or to hospitals.

About 60 wounded people remained under treatment Friday, the official said.

“We have no problem in sheltering the people and meeting their needs... The arrivals so far are well below our capacity,” he said, adding that Turkey did not currently need international assistance.

Most of the refugees have been put in a tent city in Yayladagi town, set up after the first fleeing Syrians arrived in late April.

The Turkish Red Crescent has started setting up two other camps—at Altinozu town and the nearby village of Boynuyogun, with an eventual capacity of 4,000 and 5,000, according to local aid workers and media reports.

Mr. Erdogan reiterated that Turkey would keep the doors open for the refugees, but asked: “How far this will continue?”

Metin Corabatir, the spokesman for the UNHCR in Turkey, said that “if anyone, who participated in political activities in Syria, would like to ask for asylum, Turkish officials would direct them to an asylum-seeking process.”

Ankara has also taken “measures to prevent terrorists from sneaking in,” the government official said, referring to the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has fought Ankara since 1984 and has a solid support base among Syria's own Kurdish minority.

The official declined to detail the measures but stressed that “there has been no development so far to cause concern.”

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in a brutal crackdown on almost daily anti-regime demonstrations in Syria since March 15, rights organizations say.