Turkey closes its Syria embassy, boosts aid to opposition

The embassy closure by such a key regional player is likely to increase pressure on the Syrian government. Turkey also pledged, along with the US, to increase 'non-lethal aid' to Syrian rebels.

Osman Orsal/REUTERS
A Syrian refugee boy gives a victory sign at Reyhanli refugee camp in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border March 25.

Turkey closed its embassy in Syria today, and announced it was suspending all activities in the capital, Damascus, due to deteriorating security conditions there.

Turkey is not the first to shutter its embassy; the United States and several European and Arab nations have shut down operations as well. But the closure by Turkey – a key regional player and, until last year, a close ally of Syria – is likely to put increased pressure on the Syrian government. It could also boost opposition groups.

While the capital has remained relatively calm during much of Syria’s uprising over the past year, in the last week it has seen several car bombings and major gun battles.

“Activities at the Turkish embassy have been suspended from this morning,” said one Turkish official speaking anonymously to Al Jazeera.

Turkey remains closely involved with events in Syria, however. Aside from sharing a border, the nation is now home to at least 16,000 Syrian refugees who fled the fighting. Additionally, many of the Syrian opposition groups are based in Turkey. One major meeting of opposition groups will take place in Istanbul today, reports Al Jazeera.

The Turkish government has strongly condemned the Syrian regime’s crackdown on protesters, which has left more then 8,500 people dead, according to United Nations estimates. Aside form hosting opposition groups, the Turkish government has also called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and targeted the regime with a number of sanctions, reports Al Arabiya.

“The closure of our embassy is obviously a strong political message [to the Damascus regime],” a source close to the Turkish government told Britain’s Telegraph.

News of the closure comes as the US and Turkey announced that they will increase the amount of “non-lethal” aid they give to opposition groups inside Syria. The aid will include items such as communications equipment and medical supplies, reports The New York Times. American officials have already confirmed that they have begun supplying members of the rebel Free Syria Army with communications equipment and other aid. The new agreement will formalize assistance and lay the groundwork for increased support. Officials have said that no weapons will be sent at this time.

So far, the Syrian opposition has struggled to unify and form cohesive goals. The meeting taking place in Istanbul today will serve preparations for a larger gathering scheduled to take place on April 1. The goal of today's meeting is “for all forces and parties of the opposition not to be a union, but at least to have a united purpose,” Amar Qurabi, leader of the National Change Current opposition group told CNN.

The main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, has said it wants to gather all the anti-Assad groups together in Istanbul to form a unified plan for how to remove Assad from power. In-fighting among the opposition has weakened those groups who oppose the regime, reports the BBC. Several opposition groups have recently split from the SNC over disagreements. Though the US and the EU support the SNC, the group’s failure to maintain a cohesive front is one of the main reasons foreign countries are hesitant to start providing arms to the opposition.

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