BBC | August 9, 2011
Syrian security forces have continued operations to crush protesters, even as the Turkish foreign minister pressed President Basharal-Assad to stop them.
Ahmet Davutoglu was told to deliver the message Ankara had run out of patience with the “savagery” of the crackdown. Their meeting came as activists said nine people had been killed as troops stormed villages in and around Hama. Four died in the governorate of Idlib, bordering Turkey, and three others in Deir al-Zour, they added.
Human rights activists say at least 1,700 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands arrested since the uprising began in mid-March.
Amid increasing international condemnation of the government, President Assad held talks with the Turkish foreign minister on Tuesday. Mr Davutoglu, who has helped improve ties between Ankara
and Damascus, had been told to pass on a “tough” message demanding an end to the military operations against civilian demonstrators, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Turkey’s view is that this is critical. Turkey has been patient: Prime Minister Erdogan has had a warm personal relationship with President Assad and has repeatedly urged him in the spirit of friendship to
adopt reform while remaining in power. This time it will be different. Mr Davutoglu will say Turkey is on the verge of joining other Western countries in condemning Syria, possibly backing additional action at the UN Security Council.
Syria has warned it will give an equally tough message back – Syria thinks it is not getting the understanding from Turkey that it is from neighbours like Iran.
Mr Erdogan has no choice but to distance himself, though his words may not have much effect. If Turkey was to embrace economic sanctions, that would definitely have a big impact, but Turkey doesn’t believe
that economic sanctions really work. This may be the beginning of the end of a prosperous relationship the two have had in the past few years.
Over the weekend, Mr Erdogan said not only that he had “run out of patience”, but also that from Turkey’s point of view the Syrian crisis was almost an internal problem – their shared border is over 800km (500 miles) long, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul. Many Turks sympathise with anti-government protesters in Syria and there is burning anger at what is happening, our correspondent says.
Mr Davutoglu did not make a statement after the meeting, but analysts believe he might have threatened to support stronger action on Syria by the UN Security Council during his meeting with Mr Assad.
But there is no suggestion that Ankara is considering downgrading its diplomatic ties, or imposing economic sanctions, our correspondent adds.
President Assad told Mr Davutoglu that his country’s security forces would “not relent in pursuing terrorist groups”, Syria’s state news agency, Sana, reported.
Since Saturday, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors and demanded an immediate end to the use of military force against civilians. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said the violence was “unacceptable”, and Syria had to choose between “wisdom” and being “pulled down into the depths of chaos and loss”.
The Arab League and Gulf Co-operation Council have also issued statements condemning the crackdown and calling for serious dialogue.
Envoys from India, Brazil and South Africa are also due in Damascus this week to appeal for an end to the killing of protesters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile said “precedence should be given to ending the violence and continuing efforts to effect profound political and socio-economic changes in Syria without delay”.
Damascus has said its critics are ignoring the killings and destruction by “armed terrorist gangs”, and also ignoring the reform programme that President Assad has launched in a bid to defuse the crisis.
Efforts to persuade Syria’s government to halt the crackdown have had little effect in the past week, during which more than 300 civilians are believed to have been killed, including at least 14 on Monday. On Tuesday, at least seven people were killed when troops backed by tanks and armoured vehicles overran towns and villages outside the restive central city of Hama, including Soran, Halfaya and Taybat al-Imam,
where snipers have been deployed on the roofs of the tallest buildings.
Two sisters aged six and 11 were reportedly among the five dead brought to a hospital in Taybat al-Imam, while the Syrian National Organisation for Human Rights told Reuters news agency that at least 26 people had died. Two people were also killed in the centre of Hama, activists said. At least three others were killed in the town of Binnish, in Idlib governorate, about 30km (19 miles) from the border with Turkey, in a
similar attack. Tanks were also reported in the Sarmin area of Idlib.
Asked why Binnish was stormed, a resident who had fled told Reuters: “The whole town has been joining in night rallies after Ramadan prayers.”
The army also continued its operation to crush dissent in Deir al-Zour, where more than 60 civilians are said to have been killed since Sunday. The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist group that organises and documents the protests, said that more than 200 tanks had been deployed in the centre, and that security forces personnel were carrying out raids and detaining residents. It said the death toll was still unclear, but at least three had been killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the figure at 17. Deaths were also reported in Homs and the Damascus suburb of Irbin.
Access to Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists, and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and activists.