As brinkmanship between Turkey and Syria escalates to alarming levels, diplomatic initiatives to resolve Syria’s bloody conflict still struggle to effect fruitful dialogue between the Syrian regime, its allies and its enemies.
On Monday, in the latest episode of friction between Turkey and Syria, an Armenian plane en route to Syria was ordered to land in Turkey and searched by authorities.
Though the search was not unexpected, it was a sure indication that Turkey is determined to keep its airspace free of weapons bound for Syria. Authorities’ search of the Armenian aircraft’s cargo revealed that the plane was carrying humanitarian supplies, according to Reuters. It was allowed to continue on toward Aleppo.
Turkey’s suspicions were running high after last Wednesday, when another plane approaching Syria via its airspace was grounded and searched. That plane, which came from Russia, was alleged by Turkish officials to contain weapons. Russia maintains that it contained nothing more sinister than radar equipment.
Tensions between the Turkish government and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have reached unprecedented heights over the past few months. The two countries, which share a 560-mile border and once had a strong economic relationship, have had a falling-out since the beginning of Assad’s brutal crackdown on rebels who seek to overthrow his regime.
Syrian forces shot down a Turkish jet plane that had veered into Syrian airspace this summer but promptly apologized. This month, Syrian shells landed in Turkish territory and killed five civilians; in turn, Turkey retaliated against Syrian military targets. Despite this brinkmanship, both administrations are still keen to avoid an all-out war.
Turkey is struggling to accommodate the approximately 100,000 Syrian refugees who have fled there for safe haven. Meanwhile, the death toll in Syria -- estimated now to be around 25,000 -- continues to rise.
Diplomatic efforts to broker peace are in effect, as they have been for many months. Former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakdhar Brahimi, who replaced Kofi Annan as the United Nations special envoy to Syria in August, turned to Iran on Sunday in an effort to reach a temporary ceasefire in Syria.
“Brahimi has appealed to the Iranian authorities to assist in achieving a ceasefire in Syria during the forthcoming Eid Al-Adha, one of the holiest holidays celebrated by the Muslims around the world,” according to a statement from his spokesman.
The holiday, which commemorates the story of Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Isaac (an episode that also occurs in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament), is due to begin the evening of Oct. 25. Observance of the holiday can last for several days.
Iran has been the Syrian regime’s staunchest ally throughout the uprising. According to his spokesman, Brahimi told Tehran officials that a ceasefire could “help create an environment that would allow a political process to develop.”
Brahimi then flew to Iraq, meeting with officials in Baghdad on Monday to discuss ways to end the bloodshed.
The Shia-led government in Baghdad is reluctant to support the mostly-Sunni rebels and refugees of Syria, partly because of frequent Sunni insurgency violence in Iraq. Baghdad has denied repeated accusations that it has allowed Iran to use Iraqi airspace to ship weapons into Syria.