In what could prove to be a historic day for Turkey and the decades-old Kurdish issue, fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) started withdrawing from Turkish soil and returning to bases in the mountains of northern Iraq
After several years of mutual silence, Turkey and Israel are talking to each other again. However, this latest rapprochement owes more to US diplomatic efforts than a genuine desire by Ankara and Tel Aviv to reset diplomatic relations
A day after Turkey accused Syria of dragging Ankara into its civil war after the twin bombing attack on Reyhanli that killed 46 and injured more than 100 others, a Turkish F-16 fighter crashed near Turkey's border with Syria.
The pilot, who informed authorities that he was going to bail out of the fighter, was later found dead near the scene of the incident.
The Turkish military said that it lost radio contact with the aircraft, which is based at the 5th Main Jet Command in the northern province of Amasya, around 14:15 local time.
Shortly before the incident, the plane was performing an operational flight over Amanos Mountains in southern province of Osmaniye.
Turkey blasted Syria after arresting nine people in a twin-bombing incident in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, which has become a hub for Syrian rebels and refugees ever since the Syrian conflict began.
Authorities in Turkey said that suspecs, all Turks, were arrested in connection with the bombing confessed of their involvement in the attacks. At least 46 people have been killed and more than a 100 injured in Reyhanli attack.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, hereby, accused Syria of dragging Turkey into its civil war. "They want to drag us down a vile path," Erdogan said at a rally in Istanbul.
The arrests were made shortly after Interior Minister Muammer Guler's remarks made on national TRT television that the government had identified the people and organization responsible for the attacks.
The minister alleged that the attackers were linked to a group called Turkish Marxist organization groups, which supports the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and their intelligence services.
From Berlin, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vehemently condemned the attacks and described them as a breach of Turkey's "red line", adding that his government reserves the right to "take any kind of retaliatory measure".
However, the Syrian government denied its involvement in the attacks, which are considered to be the deadliest.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi insisted that his government could never carry out such attacks "because our values don't allow us to do so."
Al-Zoubi said that "this act is terrorist and is condemned in all ethical, legitimate and humanitarian criteria." Instead the minister accused Erdogan of having "direct responsibility" for what had happened in both Syria and Turkey.
More has to be done to ensure the health and well-being of women and children affected by the Syrian conflict, said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), on a recent visit to Turkey's Nizip refugee camp, about 40km east of the southern city of Gaziantep.
One of Turkey's newest camps, Nizip houses some 10,000 refugees, or "guests" as the government prefers to call them, in white canvas tents and containers arrayed in neat numbered rows along the rocky, sun-bleached banks of the Euphrates.
It is, by many measures, a model of humanitarian assistance.
Amenities include a laundry facility, a mosque, a health clinic, hot water and hot meals, schools and playgrounds, teahouses, hairdressers and a supermarket where refugees can shop for extras using electronic voucher cards. Kids can play organized football and compete in chess tournaments, watch TV and weave rugs. There is gas and electricity, sanitation and tight security.
But Turkish authorities seem to have overlooked one important detail. According to aid workers, nowhere at Nizip, or at any of Turkey's 16 other camps, can refugee survivors of sexual violence find the level of psychosocial support experts say they so desperately need.
"I am impressed by what I have seen here," Osotimehin, a former Nigerian health minister, told a group of reporters gathered outside the camp's school. "It's remarkable what Turkey has done at its own expense." But he had also come, he said, to highlight the urgent needs of pregnant and lactating women as well as victims of the sexual violence said to be on the rise across conflict-battered Syria.
Indeed, as a January report by the International Rescue Committee put it, "rape is a significant and disturbing feature of the Syrian /civil war" - an assertion supported by surveys of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon who consistently cited sexual violence "as a primary reason their families fled the country" .
Weeks later, Erika Feller, assistant UN High Commissioner for Refugees, echoed those concerns, warning of reports that "the conflict in Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war."
And writing in the Atlantic last month, Lauren Wolfe, director of the Women Under Siege Project, which documents the incidence of rape in conflict zones, described how Syria's "massive rape crisis" is "creating a nation of traumatized survivors" .
To date, Turkey has taken in nearly'2,500 refugees in 17 camps, and six new camps are currently under construction (About the same number of refugees live outside the camps). Stretched to capacity, the country has been lauded for its open-door policy and generous aid. But glaring gaps remain .
"From what we have been able to learn there is virtually no trained psychosocial support currently available in the camps," said Leyla Welkin, a psychiatrist and gender-based violence consultant working with UNFPA. Moreover, she said, a lack of private space makes it difficult for women in the camp to talk about their experiences, perpetuating a culture of silence around sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that severely impedes efforts to address it.
"You can see that our camps are in better condition compared to Jordanian camps," said a senior Turkish official. "The people are very happy." But as Welkin told IRIN after a meeting with women `mukhtars', or village leaders, who teared up when asked about sexual violence, "there is a significant need for professional support."
A lack of capacity
That dearth of psychosocial support for survivors of sexual violence in Turkey's refugee camps is a function of its scarcity in the country at large, said Welkin, who is based in UNFPA's office in the Turkish capital Ankara. "When it comes to SGBV, Turkey is very underserved."
In fact, so lacking is the country in that kind of expertise, she said, that even those Syrian refugees living outside the camps are hard-pressed to find help.
"Our concern is not only the number of psychologists trained, but also the lack of information about the reality on the ground," said Ayman Abulaban, Turkey representative of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). While children in the camps do have access to some level of psychological support services, and while the camps in Turkey are "good in many respects," Abulaban said, UNICEF was not aware that any specialized care had been made available to victims of SGBV, including children. (According to a recent Save the Children report, sexual violence in conflict disproportionately affects children and teenagers) .
"It is of utmost importance that Syrian refugees can access SGBV services," he said in a written statement provided to IRIN. "But the response seems to be very limited. We are not sure about the capability of camp staff with regard to SGBV prevention and response."
In an effort to fill that gap, UNFPA, in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Planning, has designed a pilot programme to prepare and train 24 health care workers to conduct preliminary psychological assessment and treatment. The programme will also provide general public education on SGBV, said Welkin, including an intervention specifically targeting men, "some of whom will be perpetrators".
UNFPA has already trained Turkish health care workers in the clinical management of rape, including emergency contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and collection of forensic evidence. But in the absence of access to counselling, said Welkin, victims are unlikely to present for medical treatment, largely because of the stigma surrounding the issue.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it is "aware of mechanisms put in place by Turkish authorities" since the Syrian crisis began - both in national legislation and in local branches of the Ministry of Family and Social Policy - to identify and address cases of SGBV.
UNHCR has given Turkish officials its guidelines, or standard operating procedures, for the prevention of and response to SGBV "to be shared among their staff working with Syrian refugees in the camps." The government has informed UNHCR that specialized staff are available to the Syrian refugees, who can be treated inside the camp or referred to hospitals outside the camp where necessary, UNHCR's office in Ankara told IRIN.
The Ministry of Family and Social Policy did not answer IRIN's request for comment.
"My hope is that this catastrophe can serve as an opportunity for Turkey to take a step forward in SGBV prevention and intervention - that the professionals we train will be able to take these skills from the camps to their own communities," Welkin said.
But that will not be easy, and not least for the fact that the UN now faces a major funding shortfall. Of the US$1.5 billion pledged by international donors to cover Syrian refugee needs for the first half of 2013, just over half has been committed . UNFPA requirements for the Syrian crisis, across the region, for the same period were $20.7 million, but so far, say representatives, the agency has received less than half of that.
Meanwhile, as the fighting in Syria rages on, refugees continue to pour over the border, with some 7,000 new arrivals registering each day across the region. By the end of the year, warned UNHCR's regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, the number of Syrian refugees in the region could surpass four million .
- Provided by Integrated Regional Information Networks.
Nearly two weeks after Israel apologized for a deadly flotilla raid that killed nine Turkish activists, United States Secretary of State John Kerry urged both the sides to ease relations between them.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul, Kerry said that the U.S. is keen to see a strong relation between Turkey and Israel that it considers important for the regional stability in the Middle East.
He added that it is also important for the "peace process itself, we would like to see this relationship back on track in its full measure."
"To be back on track in its full measure, it is imperative that the compensation component of the agreement be fulfilled, that the ambassadors be returned, and that full relationship is embraced. I am confident that there will be goodwill on both sides," Kerry said.
Although Israel has made a U.S.-brokered apology to Turkey on March 22 for a military raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in May 2010, the two nations are yet to fully restore diplomatic ties. During the three-year-old rift, both the nations had recalled their respective ambassadors.
The leader of one of the most popular political parties in Tunisia says his model for the development of democracy in the Muslim world is Turkey. Experts debate whether secularism could take root in countries like Egypt or Tunisia
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Turkish troops entered northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish separatists who ambushed and killed 24 Turkish soldiers in southern Turkey
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Forget what country did it. Consider, first, the facts: Armed commandos attack an unarmed ship in international waters, open fire and kill nine civilians, including one American. What do you call that? An act of piracy. It doesn't matter what country did it
The agreement reached in which Iran would send about half of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey to be enriched signaled a new unity in the leadership in Tehran, says analyst Farideh Farhi. She says that while the regime continues to worry about its perceived legitimacy domestically, the agreement with Brazil and Turkey has strong public support
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