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Turkey houses anti-Assad fighters

Former Syrian ally Turkey has been housing members of the Free Syrian Army, an anti-Assad group who have attacked Syrian soldiers, at a guarded camp in Turkey according to the New York Times.

The news comes as the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for an attack on Wednesday that killed 9 Syrian soldiers, including one officer.

While Turkey insists their support for the group is purely “humanitarian”, Colonel As’aad of the Free Syrian Army was interviewed by the New York Times at a Turkish government official’s office, wearing a suit purchased by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and guarded by 10 Turkish soldiers, including a sniper.

Read the report by the New York Times here.

Turkish support for the group, formed mainly from defectors of the Syrian army who oppose President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, comes after Turkey has increasingly distanced itself from Assad, imposing sanctions and stopping arms shipments from reaching the country. Turkey also hosted the inauguration of the opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council.

Calling Turkey’s relationship with the Free Syrian Army “completely new territory”, Hugh Pope from the International Crisis Group said,

“This pushes Turkish policy further towards active intervention in Syria.”

"Prior to the current uprising, Turkey looked at Syria as a cornerstone in its plans to become a political, economic and 'moral' leader in the Middle East."

Colonel As’aad meanwhile reiterated his call for military support from the international community.

“We ask the international community to provide us with weapons so that we, as an army, the Free Syrian Army, can protect the people of Syria. We are an army, we are in the opposition, and we are prepared for military operations. If the international community provides weapons, we can topple the regime in a very, very short time.” 

He claims to have between 10-15,000 soldiers in the Free Syrian Army with 18 declared battalions and more secret ones across the country, with more joining as soldiers defect from the army.

See report from the Economist here.

See our ealier posts:

'China, Russia veto Syria resolution as Turkey threatens unilateral sanctions'
(Oct 2011)

'Turkey seizes Syrian arms as EU sanctions tighten' (Oct 2011)

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