Turkey: Syrian bombardment of citizens a war crime

Foreign minister calls for greater access for aid groups, says he expects UN Security Council to step in, stop bloodshed

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attends a press conference in Davos, Switzerland in December 2012. (photo credit: AP/Michel Euler)
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attends a press conference in Davos, Switzerland in December 2012. (photo credit: AP/Michel Euler)

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The Syrian regime’s bombardment of its citizens should be declared a war crime and aid groups must be given greater access to the millions who are suffering there, Turkey’s foreign minister said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum.

Syria has seen a new rise in violence in recent weeks, including a government rocket attack Wednesday, in the two-year-old conflict the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people. The civil war was a major topic of discussion Wednesday at the gathering of corporate and political leaders in the Swiss resort of Davos.

“There should be a clear signal to the Syrian regime that what they have been doing, bombarding cities by airplanes, is a war crime,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Davos, adding that he expected the UN Security Council to step in “to stop this bloodshed.”

“People are dying in Syria … How long will we wait? … The silence of the international community is killing people,” he added.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Ann Amos joined Davutoglu in projecting a sense of urgency.

“The humanitarian situation in Syria is already catastrophic and it’s clearly getting worse,” said Amos. “What we are seeing now are the consequences of the failure of the international community to unite to resolve the crisis.”

The world has been grappling with how to deal with the Syrian war ever since protests against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011. But beyond calls and symbolic gestures such as last fall’s recognition by many countries of the opposition as the legitimate government of Syria, there has been no intervention on the ground.

Russia has given Assad’s embattling regime significant diplomatic cover — which has of late has been eroding — and there has been widespread reluctance in the West about arming the rebels due to concerns about the influential role of anti-Western jihadi elements in the rebellion.

In the meantime, Amos said, 4 million people “face unrelenting violence and violations of their human rights” — living in constant fear of bombing and lacking food, shelter or medical attention.

“When I visited the region in December women told me harrowing stories of the violence they had witnessed, including rape and torture,” Amos added.

In all, she said, at least 650,000 people have fled Syria and another 2 million people are internally displaced. She said UN relief agencies, working with Syrian aid agencies, were feeding more people every month but added “we cannot keep pace with the rising number of people in acute need.”

Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the UN’s World Food Program, said the organization hoped to expand beyond the 150,000 people it was aiding in Syria but needed more resources and better access.

Davutoglu said at the very least the world community should set up humanitarian access to cities inside Syria like Homs and Hama, which so far aid workers have found largely unreachable.

“Urban areas are being bombarded indiscriminately,” he said. “Even in a war, this is a criminal act.”

Davutoglu said one possibility was setting up a no-fly zone but another alternative would be “a clear decision by the UN Security Council declaring this a war crime and taking this to international justice.”

He said Turkey was housing 160,000 Syrians in 16 refugee camps and up to 70,000 others in its cities, and had spent $500 million on housing, food, education and health services.

“We don’t see them as refugees but we see them as our guests,” he said. “We will never close our border.”

Vali Nasr, dean of the school of advanced international studies at Johns Hopkins University, warned that even if Assad fell “more than likely the civil war will continue” in the absence of any international force to stop the violence.

He said Syria occupies a key place in international politics.

“It can have a major blowback effect in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and also touch off a much broader regional rivalry between Turkey and Iran (Assad’s major backer) and Iran and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

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