Analysis: Turkey loses patience over Syria

Sun Jun 26, 2011 9:11am EDT
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By Ibon Villelabeitia

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey faces a growing danger Syrian economic and social disruption could spill onto its soil, with some fearing an influx of refugees could draw its troops into border operations uncomfortably close to Syrian forces.

President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on opposition has pushed once-warm ties with Syria close to breaking point. Assad's increasingly bloody repression of protests has driven 12,000 Syrian refugees to move north and take shelter in camps in Turkey, while Syrian troops move up to seal the area.

Ankara has sharpened its rhetoric against Damascus -- publicly nudging Assad to pass reforms and calling his crackdown "savagery" -- but analysts say Turkey is still holding out hope for a change of heart in Assad.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday a speech by Assad contained "positive elements in it as signals of reform," but said it was important that action followed.

"The Turks seem to be quite worried about a lack of alternatives to a stable regime other than a cruel tyrannical succession," said a Western diplomat with knowledge of the Turkish perspective.

"Their last best hope -- although they are not naive -- is that somehow Assad, out of desperation to save his own skin, will undertake meaningful reforms."

Syria, an ally of Iran, sits at the heart of numerous conflicts in the Middle East. An unstable Syria would have repercussions for Turkey, which also borders Iran and Iraq.

"The fear of the unknown is a major factor," said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based security analyst.   Continued...

<p>Syrian children look from behind a fence in a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province, June 26, 2011.REUTERS/Umit Bektas</p>