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Turkey, U.S. agree to joint contingency planning for collapse of Assad regime

By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers –

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The United States and Turkey on Saturday took a half-step toward intervention in Syria, announcing that the two governments jointly would begin “in depth analysis and operational planning” for a possible no-fly zone.

The countries also will begin drafting plans for how to respond if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime carries out wide-scale massacres or uses chemical weapons as it battles insurgents seeking its overthrow.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the steps early in a day of hurriedly called talks with top Turkish leaders.

Clinton asked to see top officials in Turkey while touring Africa last week, as Syrian rebels battled to seize parts of Aleppo, the country’s most populous city, against a fierce government counterattack that included jets, helicopter and artillery bombardments. Reports from Aleppo last week indicated that the rebels had withdrawn from many of their forward positions after they ran low on ammunition.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told reporters that the fighting in Aleppo had raised concerns about the possibility of what he called “a gigantic wave of migration” as the violence increases.

Jordan now has between 100,000 and 120,000 Syrian refugees, Turkish officials said. Some 53,000 Syrians have taken shelter in refugee camps in Turkey, with 2,000 more arriving each day. Some 3,500 Syrians are now waiting across the border until Turkey can establish new tent cities to accommodate them, Turkish officials said.

Clinton, who also met President Abdullah Guel and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gave strong backing to Turkey in its battle against the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which in mid-July seized territory in southeastern Turkey and has launched several other attacks on Turkish police and military.

The other recent development that could lead to a wider conflagration is Assad’s decision to turn over nearly all of the Kurdish part of Syria to a Kurdish militia closely aligned with the PKK.

Clinton said the United States shares Turkey’s “determination that Syria must not become a haven for PKK terrorists, whether now or after the departure of the Assad regime.”

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