Turkey issues ‘final word’ to Syria over civilian assault

Thousands flee Palestinian camp as Syrian troops shell Latakia; Jordan, PA denounce crackdown by Assad.

Davutoglu Assad 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Hakan Goktepe/Han)
Davutoglu Assad 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Hakan Goktepe/Han)
Syrian forces shelled residential districts in Latakia on Monday, the third day of an assault on Sunni neighborhoods of the ancient port city that had seen mounting protests against President Bashar Assad’s autocratic rule.
Meanwhile, thousands of people fled a Palestinian refugee camp in the coastal city, some fleeing gunfire and others leaving on orders from authorities, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency said.
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Diplomatic pressure continued to mount against Damascus, as officials of neighboring Turkey and Jordan called for an immediate halt to the violence.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said military operations against civilians must end immediately and unconditionally, warning the Syrian president that this was Ankara’s “final word.”
Latakia is the latest city to be stormed after Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, capital of a tribal province bordering Iraq’s Sunni heartland, and several towns in the northwestern Idlib province, which borders Turkey.
“Between 5,000 and 10,000 have fled, we don’t know where these people are so it’s very worrying,” said Christopher Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA. “We have a handful of confirmed deaths and nearly 20 injured.”
Residents of Latakia say al- Raml refugee camp has been among the targets hit by Syrian security forces in their fivemonth- long crackdown.
Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh called on “the Syrian authorities to take measures that prevent the violation of the lives of Palestinian refugees in al-Raml camp,” the official WAFA news agency reported. But Rudaineh said the Palestinian policy was not to interfere in the internal affairs of Arab states. “The future of the regimes is in the hands of their people,” he said.
Davutoglu took a firmer tone.
“This is our final word to the Syrian authorities. Our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally,” the Turkish foreign minister said in Ankara’s strongest rhetoric yet against its once close ally. “If these operations do not stop, there will be nothing left to say about the steps that would be taken,” he told a news conference, without elaborating.
“We have been in contact and have repeated our demands and have emphasized our expectations,” he said. “In the context of human rights this cannot be seen as a domestic issue.”
Davutoglu visited Damascus last week and held talks with Assad.
Jordan joined the fray on Monday as well. Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit reportedly told his Syrian counterpart, Adel Safar, by phone, “There is a need to stop violence immediately, start implementing reforms and resort to dialogue,” state news agency Petra reported.
Western-backed Jordan has said little about Syria since the start of the uprising and refrained from overtly criticizing its northern neighbor, with which it has close trade and political ties despite diverging views on Arab-Israeli peace talks. But Amman, with strong ties to Saudi Arabia, has been under pressure to condemn Damascus’s increasingly violent campaign.
In a pattern seen in other population centers across Syria attacked by core military forces loyal to Assad, tanks and armored vehicles deployed around dissident neighborhoods in Latakia and essential services were cut before raids and arrests, and bombardment, residents said.
“People are trying to flee, but they cannot leave Latakia because it is besieged. The best they can do is to move from one area to another within the city,” a witness told Reuters.
The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, a grassroots activists group, said three people, among them a 22-yearold man named Ahmad Soufi, were killed by Assad forces on Monday, bringing the total killed in the three-day sea and land assault on Latakia to at least 31 civilians, including a two-yearold girl.
Unlike most other Syrian cities, which are predominantly Sunni, Latakia has a large population of Assad’s Alawite sect because of its proximity to the Alawite Mountains and because Assad and his father encouraged co-religionists to move from their traditional mountain region, offering them cheap land and jobs in the public sector and the security apparatus.
Assad also replaced the governor of the northern province of Aleppo on Monday, the Syrian official news agency said, following the breakout of pro-democracy protests in Aleppo city, Syria’s main commercial hub and capital of the province.
“The minority regime is playing with fire. We are coming to a point where the people in the street will rather take any weapon they can put their hand on and fight than be shot at, or arrested and humiliated,” one activist said.
“We are seeing civil war in Syria, but it is one-sided. The hope is for street protests and international pressure to bring down the regime before it kills more Syrians and drives them to take up arms.”
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