Turkey delivers ‘final warning’ to Syria
Turkey is set to deliver a final warning to Syria that it must end the bloodshed sweeping the country and introduce reforms or Ankara will join international measures against the regime, the Turkish press has reported.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will fly to Damascus tomorrow (9 August) to deliver the message that Ankara’s patience with the situation is running out and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad risks losing Turkey’s support, the daily Hurriyet reported.
Thus far, Ankara has stopped short of calling for al-Assad’s departure, arguing that a democratic transition should take place under his leadership.
Already facing sanctions from the United States and Europe, Assad has seen former friend Russia turn against him, while Arab states have broken months of silence to join the chorus of concern over the escalating violence.
Russian President Dimitry Medvedev warned him that he faced a "sad fate" unless he curbed the violence and carried out swift reform.
However, Russia, a United Nations Security Council member, opposed a resolution sought by European nations and the US that would have condemned the unrest in Syria. Instead, the Security Council issued a presidential statement on 3 August, expressing “grave concern” at the deaths and human rights abuses.
Rights groups say Assad's repression of nearly five months of protests has killed at least 1,600 civilians, and the violence has ruined years of gradual rapprochement with the West as well as growing ties with neighbouring Turkey.
At least 100 anti-government protesters were killed in Syria yesterday, in the eastern city of Deir al- Zour. Heavy gunfire was heard in the Al-Maidan area of Damascus, Al Jazeera reported.
The outcome of Davutoğlu’s meeting with al-Assad will determine the course of Turkish policy vis-a-vis Syria, Turkish officials said, signaling that Ankara has come close to abandoning the Syrian president and is considering international measures that may lead to his “Saddam-like” isolation.
“The process from now on will take shape according to the response [al-Assad] will give and the practices on the ground,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday. “Our patience is running thin… We do not see the Syria issue as an external one. It is an internal issue for us. We share a border of 850 kilometers, we have kinship, historical and cultural ties and … we cannot just watch what is happening there.”
By turning against al-Assad, Turkey faces a deterioration in ties with its southern neighbor, which has flourished in recent years. The turmoil has already hit trade links between the two countries and led to an exodus to Turkey of thousands of Syrians fleeing bloodshed in their country.
In a gloomy reminder to al-Assad, Erdoğan on Saturday made a veiled reference to fallen Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, who recently appeared before a Cairo court, confined to a cage and lying on a stretcher.
“Those who sent scores of Muslims to the gallows are not up on their feet now and look where they are going on a stretcher … Those who do not learn a lesson will suffer,” Erdoğan said.
Protests in Syria began in mid-March, inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Although President Assad Bashar has offered concessions and reforms, the government has also carried out periodic crackdowns and activists say more than 1,500 civilians and 350 security personnel have been killed since the outset of the troubles.
More than 12,600 people have also been arrested and 3,000 are reported missing.
The government repression has served to increase opposition demands, and many are now calling for the president to step down.
The Syrian government has accused foreign-backed extremists and armed criminal gangs of stirring up trouble.
Most foreign journalists are banned from the country, making it difficult to verify reports.
With the start of Ramadan there are widespread fears that the violence and suppression will escalate, since sources close to the regime say there will be a strong security crackdown and no tolerance towards the protesters.
On 1 August, the EU’s High representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, announced toughened sanctions against Syria, in the form of an assets freeze and travel ban on five Syrian individuals associated with the violent repression.
The future of Syria without Bashar al-Assad cannot be predicted amid the multitude of issues, including Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Iran, the Kurdish issue and the Shiite axis, Abdulhamit Bilici writes in a commentary, published with the Turkish daily Zaman.
“For this reason […] despite the recent massacre in Hama, the US and Turkey have not yet urged Assad to go […] It is this factor that is preventing protests from spreading to Damascus and Aleppo and from growing in scale,” he argues.