x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Turkey slams Syria over crackdown on opposition

Ahead of a Turkish-Arab meeting, Turkey's prime minister warns Syrian President Bashar Al Assad that his brutal crackdown on opponents threatens to place him on a list of leaders who 'feed on blood'.

Turkish Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu shakes hands with Fassi Fihr, right, in Rabat on Tuesday.
Turkish Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu shakes hands with Fassi Fihr, right, in Rabat on Tuesday.

ISTANBUL // As Turkey expressed hope for Arab support in piling international pressure on the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad and threatened to stop energy supplies to Damascus, the Syrian opposition said yesterday more than 70 people were killed in one day.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier warned that the Syrian president's brutal crackdown on opponents threatens to place him on a list of leaders who "feed on blood".

"Assad should see the tragic end of those leaders who opened fire on their own people," Mr Erdogan said in a reference to Middle Eastern leaders driven from power by popular revolts in recent months. "Those leaders will be remembered by history as leaders who fed on blood. And you, Assad, are on your way to becoming one of them."

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, flew to Morocco yesterday to attend a meeting of the Turkish-Arab Forum, a regular conference to strengthen cooperation between Ankara and the 22 members of the Arab League. Mr Davutoglu said the League's decision to suspend Syria's membership would be taken up at today's meeting.

The foreign minister is expected to use the talks with his Arab League counterparts to forge a consensus on the Syria issue. "We will be at the side of the people's demands and move forward on regional and international platforms," Mr Davutoglu told the Turkish parliament's budget committee on Monday.

In Syria, where thousands have died in recent months as a result of Al Assad government's effort to crush a popular uprising, a total of 34 soldiers and 12 suspected army deserters were killed in clashes, as well as 27 civilians shot dead by security forces on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Five regular army troops were killed yesterday in clashes with mutinous soldiers who refused orders to shoot on civilians, it added.

In a sign of how much relations between former partners Turkey and Syria have deteriorated, Mr Erdogan yesterday issued a sharp warning against the Syrian government, following attacks on Turkish diplomatic missions in Syria last weekend that saw some assailants burning Turkish flags.

"I am telling the Assad government very clearly: Throughout history, those who touched the Turkish flag of Crescent and Star have always received their answer, and they will receive their answer now," Mr Erdogan told deputies of his ruling party during a televised speech in Ankara. He called on Mr Al Assad to find those responsible.

Shortly after Mr Erdogan spoke about Turkey's answer to the embassy attacks, Taner Yildiz, Ankara's energy minister, said his country was looking into cutting energy exports to Syria. "We are currently exporting electricity to them. If the situation continues like this, we may have to revise all these decisions," Mr Yildiz said.

He also announced Turkey has cancelled plans for oil exploration in Syria over the tensions.

Mr Erdogan renewed calls for political reforms in the neighbouring country. Like Mr Davutoglu, he welcomed the Arab League's decision to suspend Syria's membership, adding that Syria's failure to honour a pledge to the League to stop the violence against demonstrators was a sign that the regime in Damascus was not sincere in its promises of reform.

"We no longer expect the Assad government to show honest, persuasive, brave and determined leadership," Mr Erdogan said. "No one expects him to respond to the demands of the international community anymore."

Turkey ended its own efforts to get Mr Al Assad to introduce reforms three months ago, and Mr Erdogan announced in September that he was no longer in contact with the Syrian government. Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, told reporters in Ankara yesterday that Syria had entered "a dead-end street".

Mr Erdogan, speaking a day after King Abdullah of Jordan called for Mr Al Assad to step down, said Mr Al Assad should stop the repression in his country. "A future cannot be built on the blood of the innocent," he said. "Those who listen to the wrong people do not only end up losing themselves, but their countries also lose."

Turkey has turned away from the regime in Damascus after calls by Ankara for political reforms answering the demands of protesters were ignored. Several thousand refugees from Syria have fled to Turkey, while Turkish officials have allowed Syrian opposition representatives to establish an organisation in Istanbul.

Mr Davutoglu has met leaders of that group, the Syrian National Council (SNC) twice in recent weeks, with the most recent meeting taking place a day after the attacks on the foreign diplomatic missions in Syria.

Mehmet Sahin, an expert on Syria at Ankara's Gazi University, said the Al Assad regime had disappointed the League by failing to stop the violence, just as it had disappointed Turkey earlier.

"It is getting increasingly hard for Assad," Dr Sahin told The National in a telephone interview yesterday. "Pressure will mount because the approach of the Arabs has not been clear for a long time. Now it's clear, and a coordinated approach of Turkey and the Arab League is possible."

tseibert@thenational.ae