Turkey raises pressure on Syria

Ahmet Davutoglu holds six hours of talks in Damascus but Assad says forces will continue to pursue “terrorists”.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has urged the Syrian government to stop its bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and take steps to begin a process of reform.

Davutoglu spoke on Tuesday at a news conference in Ankara after a nearly seven-hour meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

He said he and Assad discussed “concrete steps” Syria should take to end its crackdown, though he offered few details of what steps the two had discussed or whether Assad had agreed to them.

“We discussed ways to prevent confrontation between the army and the people in the most open and clear way,” Davutoglu said.

“The bloodshed should end and civilian blood should be prevented from being spilled. All the steps needed for the process of reform to start should be taken.”

The Turkish foreign minister said the meetings were “lengthy but friendly”, adding that he hoped Syria would return to peace and reflect political reform in the future days and weeks.

Syria’s state news agency said Assad used the talks to tell Davutoglu that Damascus would “not relent in pursuing terrorist groups”.

Ahead of the meeting, Turkey said it was to deliver a “strong message” to the president.

But Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from the Lebanese capital, Beirut, said it was clear that Davutoglu had toned down his rhetoric. “Beforehand the words were very strong,” she said.

Ilter Turan, a professor of political science from Bilgi University in Bodrum, Turkey, told Al Jazeera: “My impression is there seems to be no agreement, but there has been a lot of discussion.”

Turkey, formerly Syria’s close ally and trade partner, has grown increasingly alarmed by the security forces’ use of force in the country’s anti-government protests, which activists say has claimed about 2,000 lives.

Army intensifies assault

As Davutoglu met Assad and the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, on Tuesday, the Syrian army intensified its assault on several towns in the east of the country and in the northern Idlib province, which borders Turkey.

Lebanese and Syrians living in Beirut rallied in solidarity with the Syrian people on Monday

A rights group said 17 civilians were killed in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, and two others in Idlib province.

“At least 15 people were killed in different parts of Deir ez-Zor which has been raided by tanks and vehicles mounted with machine guns,” the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SCHR) said in a statement, quoting activists at the scene.

“A woman and a young man shot [earlier in the day] died of their wounds.”

A resident said armoured vehicles had been shelling the al-Hawiqa district heavily.

“Private hospitals are closed and people are afraid to send the wounded to state facilities because they are infested with secret police,” the resident told the Reuters news agency.  

He said at least 65 people had been killed since tanks and armoured vehicles entered the provincial capital on Sunday.

The SCHR said about a dozen tanks and other armoured vehicles had attacked the Binnish and Sirmeen areas of Idlib.

Asked why Binnish was stormed, a resident who fled the town told Reuters: “The whole town has been joining in night rallies after Ramadan prayers.”

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a Syrian opposition group, said the town of Sirmeen was attacked from three sides, with troops carrying out house raids and arbitrary arrests.

Tanks were also deployed in and around the city of Idlib, after big demonstrations there, the activists said.

Hama deaths reported

Up to five civilians were killed later during raids on villages around the besieged city of Hama on Tuesday, local activists said.

The Syrian Revolution Co-ordinating Union said five bodies had been taken to the Jwash hospital in the town of Tibet al-Imam north of Hama, including two girls from the same family, six-year old Afra Mahmoud al-Kannas and 11-year old Sana Ahmad al-Kannas.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the reports since most foreign journalists have been barred from entering Syria.

The Syrian Observatory says more than 2,050 people, including almost 400 members of the security forces, have been killed since the uprising began.

Diplomatic action

Amid the increased violence, envoys from India, Brazil and South Africa are preparing to go to Damascus to press Assad to end the violent crackdown on the five-month old uprising.

India’s UN ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters that the three countries would be “calling for restraint, abjuring violence, [and] promoting reform, taking into account the democratic aspirations of the people’.’

Officials said country’s representatives were to meet “high-level” Syrians on Wednesday.

Assad’s government disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest. But those claims have been dismissed by most of the international community, with world leaders ramping up its condemnation of the security forces’ actions in recent days.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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