Turkey, a longtime supporter of the Syrian rebels, has recognized the newly-formed Syrian National Coalition as the country’s legitimate government. Various anti-Assad factions were hammered into a unified body last week by its foreign allies.
Ankara made it clear that it treats the rebel coalition as an organization capable of speaking for the Syrian people on Thursday, as it was calling on other nations to do likewise.
Turkey “once again reiterates its recognition of the Syrian national coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a speech at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Djibouti, the tiny country on the Horn of Africa.
The statement was the first stating clearly Turkey’s recognition of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), although it was no surprise. The country’s foreign ministry earlier this week urged other nations to recognize it.
The SNC, successor to the mostly defunct Turkey-based Syrian National Council, was also recognized by the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and France. They announced their support of the body shortly after it was formed on Sunday, following days of wrangling at a conference in Doha, Qatar. However other members of the Arab League and Western countries are hesitant to recognize the SNC or declare the government in Damascus illegitimate.
The Arab monarchies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been funding the forces trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad for months. France, which previously limited its official involvement in the conflict to diplomatic support of the Syrian rebels, indicated that it wants to supply “defensive weapons” to them. These may include surface-to-air systems, which would allow the rebels to shot down aircraft of the Syrian air forces.
A delegation of rebel leaders is currently visiting London to meet the UK's Foreign Secretary William Hague. The country is believed to be considering recognition of the SNC, should they be able to lay down a clear plan for transition of power in the Syria.
Turkey is another vocal supporter of the anti-Assad forces fighting in Syria. The tension between the two neighbors is at a high, with Ankara ordering a build-up of troops along the border and both countries denying each other airspace for civilian traffic.
Tens of thousands of refugees from Syria fled to Turkish territory over the 20 months of the conflict. Syria says the refugee camps serve as recruiting ground and home bases for the rebels, with Turkey turns a blind eye to.
The border regions of Syria often become battlegrounds where the Syrian army and rebel forces clash with each other, making Turkey concerned that the violence could spill over into their territory. Last month the Turkish military shelled Syria across the border for a week in response to a series of mortar shots from the other side.
Ankara is also in negotiations with its NATO allies over possible deployment of Patriot long-range surface-to-air missiles along the border with Syria. It says it needs them to defend from possible attacks by Syrian warplanes on Turkish territory. If deployed, however, the systems could be used to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria proper, a step long-discussed by foreign allies of the rebels, but not implemented due to lack of a UN mandate.