ANKARA - Turkey suspended all activities at its embassy in the Syrian
capital Damascus on Monday, the Foreign Ministry said, as the security
situation in Syria deteriorated further.
Last year Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told Syrian President
Bashar Assad he should quit, having lost patience with his former
friend's refusal to end a violent crackdown on popular unrest over the
Turkey is providing sanctuary to more than 16,000 Syrians who have fled
the violence in their homeland, has given shelter to soldiers from the
rebel Free Syrian Army, and allows the Syrian opposition to meet
regularly in Istanbul.
On April 1, Turkey will hold a meeting of "Friends of Syria," grouping
mostly Arab and Western governments, to find ways to pressure Assad into
halting his military clampdown, during which the country has drifted
towards civil war.
Many of those governments closed their embassies in Damascus earlier this month.
The meeting of foreign ministers will be held in Istanbul, where leading
Syrian dissidents were gathering on Monday and Tuesday in an attempt to
bridge divisions within the opposition and instil confidence in the
Syrian National Council umbrella organization.
More than 50 countries were represented at the first meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group in Tunis in late February.
Last week the foreign ministry called on all Turkish citizens in
neighboring Syria to return to Turkey as soon as possible, saying it
planned to close the consular section of its Damascus embassy, which it
did on March 22.
All embassy staff have been withdrawn, including the ambassador, who had
recently returned to Damascus, having earlier been brought back to
Ankara for many months as relations with Assad's government turned icy.
Turkey, a Muslim member of NATO, has the second largest army in the
Western alliance and has gathered increasing clout in the Middle East by
siding with people rather than rulers during the uprisings that have
shaken the Arab world since late 2010.
Turkish diplomats' families were brought home last year after an attack
on the embassy by demonstrators who were angry that Turkey had taken
sides against Assad.