Regional rivalries emerge from Arab Spring

By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent

Behind the Arab Spring lie its secrets. Turkey and Qatar have now developed a passionate anger towards Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime – the Turks even planning for a “safe haven” inside Syrian territory if they fear a tide of refugees approaching the Turkish border – while Gulf Arabs suspect Algeria may be secretly re-arming Libya.

Turkey believes that Assad has twice dishonoured promises to pull his brother’s armed thugs off the streets of Syrian cities, and the coverage of the Syrian uprising by Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television channel has so enraged the Syrians that they have blocked £4bn worth of Qatari investment projects.

Qatar’s own armed forces are now assisting Libyan rebels in the western port city of Misrata, their officers helping to train guerrilla fighters on the perimeter of the fighting. No official statement has been issued about this Qatari involvement although the Gulf emirate has six Mirage fighter-bombers stationed on Crete and flying sorties over Libya.

The fear that Algeria has been supplying tanks and armoured personnel carriers to the Gaddafi regime across its 750-mile common desert border lies behind the recent visit of the Emir of Qatar to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose army is better equipped than Gaddafi’s. The weapons which the Gulf Arabs believe have been given to the Libyan regime by the Algerians would go some way to account for Nato’s slow progress in its air campaign against Gaddafi.

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More serious, perhaps, are Turkey’s plans for a “protection zone” inside northern Syrian territory if the uprising there turns into full-scale civil war. Turkey remembers, to its horror, the weeks in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds fled across its borders after Saddam Hussein unleashed his forces against them following the 1991 liberation of Kuwait. Thousands died in the frozen mountains and only a US safe haven inside northern Iraq allowed the Turks to turn back the refugees.

As in northern Iraq, part of northern Syria’s population is Kurdish; many believe that Assad has no intention of keeping his promise of granting them citizenship, and Turkish forces in the south-east of their country are still fighting their own Kurdish guerrillas in the mountains; they do not want more stateless Kurds crossing the border.

Assad had apparently promised the Turks that he would speak publicly about withdrawing troops from the streets, but he failed to do so – a fact which particularly infuriated Turkey’s foreign minister

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