Jordanian support for Syria buffer zone 'out of question'
Jordanian officials have struck down the possibility of establishing a buffer zone along the Kingdom's border with Syria amidst growing calls from the international community for greater efforts to protect Syrian civilians.
According to Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Rakan Majali, there is "no possibility" decision makers in Amman will consider establishing a buffer zone along the northern border to offer protection to displaced Syrians. "We will not support any action - economic sanctions, buffer zone or otherwise - that is against the interest of the Jordanian people or the Syrian people," Majali told The Jordan Times over the phone on Saturday.
Describing the situation in the border area as "normal", Majali stressed that although displaced Syrians are trickling into the Kingdom by the dozens, the situation is nowhere near a "humanitarian crisis" requiring intervention. "We will continue to offer emergency medical support for Syrian civilians, but that is where our support ends." Although illegal trafficking remains an ongoing issue - with the most recent reported clashes between Syrian forces and alleged smugglers late Friday - Jordan and Syria remain "on the same page" in maintaining a secure border, the official said. "We support Syria's sovereign right to prevent smuggling and we are taking actions to maintain security along the border region," Majali added. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh denied the existence of tensions along the border region, stressing that diplomatic relations between Amman and Damascus are "ongoing". "We are maintaining diplomatic channels with Syria and the situation along the border is normal," Judeh said in a recent phone interview with The Jordan Times.
Amman's position comes amidst calls by the Syrian opposition for safety zones along Syria's borders with Turkey and Jordan, with activists holding nationwide demonstrations on Friday under the slogan "A Buffer Zone is our Demand". On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council urged action to protect Syrian civilians, reporting that over 4,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since the start of a military crackdown on protesters in February.
The comments come less than a week after Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh stressed Jordan's rejection of any foreign interference in Syria and sanctions that are "against the interest of the Jordanian people", and days after an official request was made to exempt the Kingdom from carrying out Arab League sanctions against Damascus. The Syrian crisis poses a political challenge for Jordan, which according to observers, is attempting to strike a balance between supporting the international consensus on Syria while maintaining open diplomatic channels with Damascus.
Analysts and former diplomats cite ongoing economic ties, security concerns and the presence of thousands of Jordanian nationals in Syria as the major drivers behind Amman's reluctance to take a stronger stance towards its northern neighbour.