Turkey has said it is getting ready for a tide of refugees escaping the violence in neighboring Syria. As the situation shows no sign of easing a year on from the start of the uprising, Ankara is weighing its options.
Turkey braced itself for a further flood of refugees on Thursday, as officials reported 1,000 people crossing the border within 24 hours from neighboring Syria.
"There has been an increase in those fleeing from Syria to our country," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal told a news conference. "Yesterday, the number of people who had come was 13,700. This morning, the number is 14,700. This shows the seriousness of the situation in Syria."
Turkish officials are preparing for the mass arrival of refugees - mostly women and children - as numbers close to the border swell.
In Sanliurfa province, halfway along Turkey's extensive border with Syria, Turkey has begun the construction of a camp to house up to 20,000 people, Anatolia news agency reported Wednesday.
However, Turkish Red Crescent head Lutfi Akar was reported as saying his organization expected as many as half-a-million refugees to cross the border.
"There are various scenarios that this figure may climb up to 500,000," the Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay accused Syrian troops of using lethal force to stop people from escaping the violence. "Many have lost their lives. The Syrian administration has been planting mines, taking measures not to allow refugees to flee to the other side of the border," Atalay claimed on Thursday.
'Buffer zone' plan suggested
Atalay told the Turkish NTV television channel that a "buffer zone" within Syria might be considered.
Turkey has talked about establishing a safe zone for refugees within Syria itself in the past. High numbers of people fleeing the country and massacres within Syrian cities have been indicated as possible reasons for it to pursue such a course of action.
In Idlib province, not far from the Turkish border, government forces reportedly killed at least 40 people on Thursday. Among those, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, were 23 people whose bodies it said were found to the west of Idlib city.
"The bodies of blindfolded and handcuffed men were found near Mazraat," the observatory's Wadi Khaled told the news agency dpa.
Also on Thursday, a year to the day after the outbreak of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the observatory said that a total of 9,113 - including 6,645 civilians - had died in the fighting so far. The most recent UN estimate put the death toll in excess of 8,000.
In Damascus, thousands were shown by state television waving flags of Syria, China and Russia in the center of the city, showing their appreciation to Moscow and Beijing for vetoing a Security Council resolution against Damascus.
rc/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)