Concerns mount over missing Turkish journalists in Syria

Concerns and questions are mounting over the safety of two missing Turkish journalists who went to Syria’s Idlib province — a Syrian opposition stronghold — in early March to cover the ongoing violence between regime forces and rebels, media outlets have reported.

Adem Özköse (L), Hamit Coşkun (R)

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu noted on Monday that the whereabouts of the journalists are still not known. Turkish officials have been unable to verify reports that the two journalists were captured by Syrian intelligence forces, a claim that has been denied by Damascus.

Adem Özköse, a reporter from the İstanbul-based Gerçek Hayat magazine and the Milat daily, arrived with Hamit Coşkun, a cameraman, in Syria on March 5. They were last heard from on March 10.

Unnamed local sources say the two journalists were handed over to Syrian intelligence forces by pro-regime Shabiha militias in the village of al-Fua, in Idlib, the Anatolia news agency reported last week. Idlib has been the scene of heavy fighting between the Syrian military and opposition forces in recent days.

While the public awaits the release of the journalists with anger and anxiety, the Foreign Ministry has denied it has any plans to hand over a number of recently defected Syrian generals in order to secure the journalists’ freedom.

Ahead of a visit to New York to attend a meeting of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay reiterated that Turkey has no plans to take part in a swap deal to repatriate the journalists.

‘Rebels need anti-tank weapons’

Amid escalating violence over the weekend which saw several explosions in major cities across Syria, Assad’s army has intensified its operations against rebel strongholds, including the restive city of Idlib. The clashes revealed the rebels’ desperate need for weapons, including anti-tank missiles, according to a journalist based in Hatay.

Tanks are a nightmare for the rebels, the journalist said, speaking to Today’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

According to the journalist, while Idlib is now under the control of the Syrian army, it does not mean the end of the resistance, as the rebels withdrew to mountains and villages. They are conducting a guerilla war, he added.

Meanwhile, he questioned the efficiency of the guerilla tactics employed by Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels in the face of a lack of essential military equipment, which left few options for FSA fighters.

The recent bomb attacks against Assad’s intelligence headquarters in Damascus, however, indicate an increase in the use of guerilla tactics, he said.

Regarding the missing journalists, he thinks they will be released in the upcoming weeks.

“While Syria officially denies the journalists were taken by intelligence forces, many local witnesses have confirmed the incident. They are probably now being questioned by the regime. Syria will not hold them for a long time and I think they will be released shortly,” he said, adding that Syria does not wish to further damage its relations with Turkey.

Moreover, growing international pressure over the journalists’ detention may pressure the Syrian regime into releasing them, he added.

Source: Today’s Zaman

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