Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Sunday that the radicalization process of ordinary people taking place in Syria at the hands of Islamist and jihadi groups risks turning Syria into an “Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean.”
Speaking to the British daily The Guardian, the Turkish president warned that the Syrian crisis posed a serious security threat to Turkey as well as to Europe, and lamented the disappointing response of the international community to the civil war taking place in the country.
“I don’t think anybody would tolerate the presence of something like Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean. For that reason, the international community must have a very solid position with respect to Syria,” Gul told The Guardian.
“…There is a country, Syria, exhausting itself, consuming itself, with many people dead, the infrastructures gone, there is a lot impact of what is going on, and the international community is watching this. Simply watching this, and this is very regrettable,” he added.
Gul warned that, if left to deteriorate further, the war in Syria would radicalize “ordinary people” and lead to groups becoming even more extreme. “It’s an issue for everyone,” he said.
Turkey has several times warned that it would act in case of a spillover or an act of aggression by Syria
“There is no question about this. In fact we have already stated that we have changed the rules of engagement and we have given authority to Turkish armed forces in that respect,” Gul said.
As for the recent US-Russia-brokered chemical weapons deal with Bashar Assad, Gul suggested, it was a way for the Syrian president to distract from the larger question of the civil war.
“It might be said Assad made good use of an opportunity with the chemical weapons deal with the Russians. But the question comes back to the international community again … Of course we are very pleased about the chemical weapons and we support that. But was it just the chemical weapons? Do we reduce the whole thing to chemical weapons? I think there is a moral question there that is presented to the international community,” Gul stressed.
The Turkish president expressed support for the Geneva II peace conference meant to bring the Assad government and the opposition together to discuss a way to resolve the crisis, scheduled for later this month, but remained pessimistic on the possible outcome.
“The country is destroyed … There really isn’t in my opinion much that can be done now,” he concluded.
The Syrian civil war, which began as a peaceful protest in March 2011, has claimed the lives of over 120,000 people, destroyed the economy and the infrastructure, led over 2 millions people to flee to neighboring countries and displaced close to 5 million.
Turkey hosts more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, according to the latest figures released by the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was once an ally of Assad but later became a harsh critic and a bitter rival, and the two countries have seen several cross-border incidents over the past 2.5 years since the war began.
On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denied reports of Turkish involvement in an alleged Israeli air strike on a military base in Latakia, Syria last week, which allegedly targeted “missiles and related equipment” meant for Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
“There is an attempt to give the impression that Turkey has coordinated with Israel. We have issues with Syria, an issue based on a principle. But let me say it clearly: The Turkish government has never cooperated with Israel against any Muslim country, and it never will,” said the FM.
The Turkish FM slammed the reports, describing them as “black propaganda.” “Those [reports] are attempts to cast a shadow on the Syrian people’s rightful struggle and Turkey’s attitude with principles. It is out of the question for us to participate in any common operation,” he was quoted by Turkish daily Hurriyet as saying.
On Thursday, a report by Lebanon’s MTV Thursday cited Turkey as being behind the Wednesday attack in Syria, but subsequent reports claimed Turkey merely supplied intelligence to Israel. The Lebanese report cited Israeli officials who allegedly claimed Turkish involvement came in response to the June 2012 interception of a Turkish jet, which Syrian forces shot down. The pilots were subsequently killed.