Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Tuesday his forces would continue to
pursue “terrorist groups,” after Turkey pressed him to end a military assault
aimed at crushing five-month-long protests against his rule.
not relent in pursuing the terrorist groups in order to protect the stability of
the country and the security of the citizens,” state news agency SANA quoted
Assad as telling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. But Assad said his
government “is also determined to continue reforms... and is open to any help
offered by friendly and brotherly states.”
absent again from naval drills with Israel, US
Syrian forces killed at least
30 people Tuesday and moved into a town near the Turkish border, an activist
group said. Activists say at least 1,600 civilians have died since the uprising
against Assad erupted in March.
On his return to Ankara, Davutoglu said
he had demanded from the Syrian government that it stop killing civilians, and
that Turkey would be monitoring events in Syria over the coming days. Describing
his talks with Assad as “frank and friendly,” Davutoglu also said his government
would maintain contacts with all parts of Syrian society.
director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Turkey was spurred to engage
with Syria more deeply after several Arab states pulled their ambassadors from
“The problems with Turkey come against the background of the
withdrawal of ambassadors from several Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia,” Levitt
said. “Syrians coming to Turkey are telling all kinds of stories, so it’s not
like this is happening in a vacuum.
“It’s telling that the Saudis, who
are in favor of stability and not in favor of public protests, have withdrawn
their ambassador,” he said, adding Riyadh’s intervention may be seen as an
effort to portray itself as “protector” of the Sunni Muslim world.
Levitt noted that the Arab League has made clear that it opposes any
consideration of Libya-style military intervention.
Events took a bizarre
turn Tuesday when Gen. Ali Habib, Syria’s defense minister, went on state
television to refute reports he had died. Habib blamed “foreign news
organizations” for spreading misinformation to defame Syria’s “courageous
Syrian opposition websites reported Tuesday that Habib
– whose departure Damascus attributed to ill health – had been found dead in his
Meanwhile, Egypt followed Turkey in condemning the Assad regime’s
crackdown, with Foreign Minister Muhammad Amr saying he fears the Syrian revolt
is “heading toward the point of no return” and calling for an immediate end to
Cairo’s state-run MENA news agency reported Amr called for
an “immediate end to shootings,” saying that “reforms that are soaked in the
blood of the martyrs who are dying daily are of no use.” He also called for a
dialogue including “all segments of Syrian society” to help end the
In Damascus, Davutoglu held six hours of meetings with Syrian
officials, including a two-hour session alone with Assad. US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton had asked the Turkish foreign minister to reinforce a demand
from Washington that Syria return the army to barracks immediately and release
The Turkish foreign minister said Turkey hoped for a peaceful
transition in Syria resulting in Syrian people determining their own
Ankara has advised Assad to enact reforms that will pave the way
for Syria to move to a multiparty political system, but earned a sharp rebuke on
Sunday when an Assad adviser said Syria would not accept interference in its
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a softer
line on the uprising, describing it as a domestic issue for Turkey, because of
their 850km. shared border.
Saudi Arabia this week issued a blunt warning
that Assad risked turmoil unless he stopped the bloodshed and adopted reforms.
This week, Kuwait and Bahrain followed the kingdom in recalling their
The withdrawal of envoys left Assad with few diplomatic
friends other than Iran. Western states have imposed sanctions on his top
officials, while states with close ties to Damascus such as Russia and Turkey
have warned the Syrian leader he is running out of time.
contributed to this report.