Turkey Feeling The Pressure Of Syrian Refugees

The Obama administration has been leery of any military intervention in Syria and says the idea of a no-fly zone is on the "back burner." But Turkey says it won't be able to handle the influx of refugees much longer and safe zones inside Syria are needed. Analysts say if Turkey and the Syrian rebels push for that, the U.S., as a NATO ally, will have no choice but to provide air cover.

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An airstrike on an apartment building in Eastern Syria killed more than 20 people today, according to activists there. And across the country, the death toll from government air attacks has been climbing. That's prompting renewed talk of a no fly zone to protect civilians trying to flee Syria.

The Obama administration says that option is not on the front burner at the moment, but it might be soon, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Obama administration has been leery of any military intervention in Syria, but Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution says, like it or not, things may be heading that way.

MARTIN INDYK: Things are moving now in a direction of military intervention, not so much by the United States, but by Turkey.

KELEMEN: Turkey's foreign minister has said that his country can't deal with more refugees pouring into the country and has long suggested the need for a safe haven inside Syria's borders. As Indyk points out, Turkey is also worried about stepped up attacks by the Kurdish militant group known as the PKK and Turkey accuses Syria's government of backing them.

INDYK: So they now have two strong motivations for military intervention here that could create a safe haven that NATO may have to provide air cover for. In other words, kind of a no fly zone.

KELEMEN: The French defense minister is already suggesting a limited no fly zone. In fact, one practically exists, says Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Syrian rebels control some territory along the border with Turkey. And ever since Syria shot down a Turkish jet, Ankara has been warning Syrian planes to keep their distance. Aliriza says, so far, they have.

BULENT ALIRIZA: What is being discussed in Turkey is that a 10-kilometer buffer zone be established, where those are escaping Assad's wrath can actually be accommodated with assistance of Washington, London, Paris, and presumably U.N. relief agencies so that the burden on Turkey that it's been carrying alone is released.

KELEMEN: U.S. and Turkish officials met Thursday to do contingency planning on Syria. A State Department spokesperson says they discuss plans for a post-Bashar al-Assad transition and what to do if Assad uses his stockpile of chemical weapons. The U.S. has been promising to coordinate more with Ankara, but Aliriza says Turkey has been hoping for more active support.

ALIRIZA: And, frankly, the Turk side, even though it has not said this publicly, is somewhat disappointed by the standoffish attitude of the U.S. As the Turkish side sees it, the U.S. wants the same thing that Turkey wants, which is the fall of the Assad regime, but is not willing to be active to bring that about in the way that it was in the Libyan crisis.

KELEMEN: The U.S. can also expect more requests from Syrian rebels. Brian Sayers is with the Washington-based Syrian Support Group, which is raising money here to help the opposition. He says the Free Syrian Army is thinking about declaring safe zones, but would need more military hardware and international air cover.

BRIAN SAYERS: It is going to require support from the U.S. because the U.S. has the assets. It has the capacity. It can put together the intelligence. And, quite frankly, I don't see that there are going to be a lot of countries that are going to act without the U.S. supporting this.

KELEMEN: Turkey has been hoping to get United Nations backing, as well. But with Russia likely to block any such action, France, the current Security Council president, is holding out the possibility of a more limited safe zone and without the U.N.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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