Bloody day prompts US, Turkey to slam Assad

Arab League stops short of calling for military action against Damascus as violence claims 69 more lives.

Syrian opposition 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian opposition 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Arab League met opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Tuesday, a day after violence in his country claimed 69 more lives in the bloodiest day yet in the government’s brutal eight-month crackdown. The rising violence prompted calls for tougher measures against Damascus, with US, UN, Turkish and Saudi officials chiding the Syrian regime for openly flouting international norms.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had fostered close ties with Syria before this year’s unrest, warned Assad that his government was on a “knife-edge” and demanded an apology for attacks on Turkey’s diplomatic missions in Syria.
RELATED:White House: Pressure building on Syria's Assad Syria urges Arab League to reconsider suspension Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem apologized on Monday for the attacks, which also targeted Saudi and French missions.
But Erdogan said Turkey expected more contrition.
“Bashar, you are required to punish those who attacked the Turkish flag,” he declared. “We want the Syrian administration to not only respect the Turks in Turkey and the Turkish flag, but also to respect their own people. We especially want this.”
Erdogan has yet to unveil promised sanctions against Syria, but his country now hosts the main Syrian opposition and has given refuge to Syrian civilians and defecting soldiers.
“Nobody now expects the [Syrian] people’s demands to be met,” he said. “We all want the Syrian administration, which is now on a knife-edge, to turn back from the edge of the cliff.”
The Arab League, which has voted to suspend Syria’s membership as of Wednesday, asked opposition groups to draw up their plans for a transition of power, as a prelude to a wider gathering the Cairobased body has planned on Syria’s future.
“The Arab League will announce soon a date for a conference to include many of the Syrian opposition groups to discuss the ways and time needed to move to a transitional period,” Abdel Basset Sedah of the opposition Syrian National Council’s executive office told Reuters after meeting League officials.
After months of hesitation, the League decided on Saturday to discipline Syria for pursuing a violent crackdown on dissent instead of implementing an Arab peace initiative. It has stopped short of calling for Assad’s departure or proposing any Libya-style foreign military intervention in Syria.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington hoped the Arab League would use its next meeting on Wednesday to send a forceful message to Assad.
“We look for the Arab League tomorrow to again send a forceful message to Assad that he needs to allow for a democratic transition to take place and end the violence against his people,” Toner told a news briefing.
“The drumbeat of international pressure is increasing on Assad,” he said without elaborating.
Joining the chorus of criticism, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to Bangladesh: “President Bashar should stop immediately the killing of his own people.”
The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed since protests against 41 years of Assad family rule began in March.
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former chief of the kingdom’s intelligence services, said Assad had made his position clear by failing to live up to commitments made under an Arab League initiative to stop the bloodshed and start political dialogue.
“Inevitably, I think, the lack of response of Mr. Assad to all the efforts made to end the fighting in Syria means that he’s taken the view of not accepting these matters,” he told a Washington audience.
Russia, one of Damascus’s last few foreign friends, hosted talks with the Syrian National Council and urged it to hold a dialogue with Assad’s government. The opposition group responded by pressing Moscow to join calls for the Syrian leader to quit, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.
Russia joined China last month in blocking a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Assad’s crackdown, and has accused the West of discouraging dialogue in Syria.