Conflict & Justice

Turkey shelters anti-Assad group, Free Syrian Army: report


A woman attends an activist demonstration in front of the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 29, 2011 to protest President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Participants included Syrians living in Turkey.


Bulent Kilic

Turkey has been providing shelter to an armed opposition group, called the Free Syrian Army, that has been waging a revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, according to a report in The New York Times.

The article states that Turkey's support of the opposition group is one aspect of a broader campaign by Turkey to undermine the government of one of its biggest allies.

Read more at GlobalPost: US ambassador to Syria withdrawn after threats

Turkey is allegedly providing shelter to the group's commander and dozens of its members and allowing them to plan attacks while inside a refugee camp heavily guarded by Turkish forces. The Times states:

Turkey is expected to impose sanctions soon on Syria, and it has deepened its support for an umbrella political opposition group known as the Syrian National Council, which announced its formation in Istanbul. But its harboring of leaders in the Free Syrian Army, a militia composed of defectors from the Syrian armed forces, may be its most striking challenge so far to Damascus.

Turkey's government has also influenced a Syrian political opposition group based in Istanbul, the Syrian National Council (SNC), reports the Atlantic.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) almost certainly prefer a fellow Sunni government in Syria to replace the current Alawite regime. Although previously friendly to Assad, AKP's Turkey has since taken the lead among Islamic nations in condemning the regime's violence. Turkey has hosted the majority of Syrian opposition conferences on its soil, from Istanbul to Antalya. Ten thousand Syrian refugees who fled a massacre in the Idleb province last June are currently living in tents on the Turkish border.

Assad's regime has faced anti-government protests for months. The government has responded to the demonstrators, who have called for political reform and the resignation of Assad, with brutal force. Human rights groups say that about 3,000 people have died in Syria since the protests began in mid-March.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International released a report accusing Syrian state hospitals of torturing wounded protesters.

Turkey has responded to allegations that it is harboring an opposition group by insisting that it is operating only based on humanitarian grounds.

“At the time all of these people escaped from Syria, we did not know who was who, it was not written on their heads ‘I am a soldier’ or ‘I am an opposition member,’ ” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Times. “We are providing these people with temporary residence on humanitarian grounds, and that will continue.”