The head of the Arab League has said the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad cannot last for long in an interview published in the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat on Tuesday. The statement echoed a similar statement made Monday night by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, saying the uprising against Assad is "closer than ever to victory" and warning that Turkey will respond firmly to any hostility from Syria.

Speaking after an Arab League meeting which called on Assad to step down, Secretary General Nabil Elaraby also said the time for talking about political reform was over. "There is now no talk about political reform, but a transfer of power," he said.

Arab League ministers who convened in Doha on Sunday called on Assad to relinquish power, adding that the Arab League would help to provide a safe exit for him and his family.

Asked how long the Assad administration could survive, Elaraby told al-Hayat: "I cannot define a period, but the regime cannot continue for a long time."

As required by the Arab League resolutions adopted on Sunday, Elaraby said he would soon travel to China and Russia with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who chairs the Arab League committee on Syria.

China and Russia have used their veto power in the UN Security Council three times to block resolutions designed to pressure Assad and halt the conflict in Syria.

"Our message to the Russians will be, with clarity and frankness, that the veto decision they took is viewed as being against Arab interests. We hope for a review of the matter, especially given that they know that the days of the current regime in Syria are numbered," he said.

Speaking at a dinner for ambassadors in Ankara on Monday evening, Turkey's Erdogan said "We believe that the Syrian people are closer than ever to victory," according to state-run Anatolian news agency.

The Turkish prime minister also criticized the faltering peace plan drawn up by international envoy Kofi Annan after the UN Security Council voted on Friday to extend for 30 days the mandate of the UN monitoring mission in Syria.

"The Annan plan, which the international community including Turkey has supported in good faith, has become a vehicle for exploitation by the Assad regime in its current form. The international community must take more responsibility when faced with the unfolding developments," he said.

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Erdogan also issued a new warning to Syria, calling on it to heed Turkey's firm response to the shooting down of the Turkish military reconnaissance aircraft on June 22 off the coast of Syria.

"If the Syrian regime does not learn the lesson of these developments and continues its hostile behavior, Turkey will not hesitate to give as good as it gets," Erdogan said.

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