After meeting for seven hours with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the foreign minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said that Turkey is urging its neighbor to stop the brutal crackdown of its own citizens and institute reforms. But after the meeting, Assad “rebuffed” Turkey’s appeals to end the crackdown, says the New York Times.
Before the protests that began in mid-March, Turkey and Syria were close allies and trade partners, even holding joint Cabinet meetings and military exercises. Visa requirements between the two countries were lifted in 2009 and a new border crossing was built; trade tripled in three years. But Ankara has been increasingly concerned about the violence just over its border. Human rights activists say that over 2,000 Syrians have been killed so far and thousands more detained. Thousands of Syrians have also fled into Turkey and are living in refugee camps run by the Turkish Red Crescent.
Reporting from Beirut — Syria has forbidden foreign journalists to report from within its borders — Al Jazeera‘s Rula Amin said that Davutoglu had toned down his words which had been “very strong” prior to the meeting. In talks that were “lengthy but friendly,” Davutoglu said
“We discussed ways to prevent confrontation between the army and the people in the most open and clear way.”
“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.”
Al Jazeera reports that Syria’s own state news agency, Sana, said that Assad told Davutoglu that Damascus would “not relent in pursuing terrorist groups” and militant Islamists. Throughout the protests, the Syrian government has used such terms to describe those whom it says are behind the unrest.
Even while the talks were going on, the Syrian army continued its attacks on Deir ez-Zor in the east and in the northern Idlib province, which borders Turkey. Two were killed in Idlib and 15 in Deir ez-Zor, said activists. At least 65 people have been killed in Deir ez-Zor since Sunday, says the Local Co-ordination Committees, a Syrian opposition group. People are afraid to seek medical treatment at hospitals because these are said to be “infested with secret police.”
In raids around the city of Hama, which has been under siege for several days, up to five people were killed. The Syrian Revolution Co-ordinating Union said that among the dead were two girls from the same family, six-year old Afra Mahmoud al-Kannas and 11-year old Sana Ahmad al-Kannas, although this report could not be independently verified.
Commenting on the increased diplomatic isolation of Syria and the continuing use of force against its own citizens, the Guardian says:
As the violence continued, it was rumoured that Ali Habib, the former Syrian defence minister, had been found dead after being replaced on Monday. But sources in Damacsus insisted that Habib, like the Assads a member of the minority Alawite sect, was unwell but alive.
In the past high-profile Syrians who have fallen foul of the regime have been killed or reportedly taken their own lives in mysterious circumstances. True or not, the story seemed symptomatic of a febrile atmosphere and heightened intense speculation about the inner workings of the Assad regime.
Opposition sources said they were worried that the new defence minister, Daoud Rajah, had been chosen to drive a wedge between his own Christian community and the country’s Sunni majority. The appointment was also seen as reflecting possible disagreements the president and his brother Maher, who in effect commands the elite fourth division and has been overseeing the security crackdown.
Syria is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Damascus, as did Kuwait and Bahrain. On Wednesday, envoys from India, Brazil and South Africa are to meet with “high-level” Syrian officials to discuss an end to the months of violence.
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