Turkish officials haven’t hidden their frustration with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since he has pursued his deadly crackdown on opposition protests in defiance of calls for an immediate end to violence; yet, the same officials have also been tight-lipped when asked about the next step that the Turkish capital will take with regard to Syria.
On Monday, the Syrian military assault on the port city of Latakia entered its third day, while activists and rights groups said troops backed by tanks entered the village of Houla in the flashpoint central city of Homs. They said the military was carrying out raids and arrests there.
The military assault on Latakia has killed nearly 30 people since Saturday and possibly more after gunboats joined ground troops for the first time on Sunday to crush the 5-month-old uprising against Assad.
Turkish officials in Ankara told Today’s Zaman that they have been closely following the attacks against civilians. Under these conditions, “a new reaction,” against Assad by Ankara seems inevitable, yet officials have given no clue about the content of this reaction since apparently they have been assessing various possible actions as well as the consequences of these actions.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, meanwhile, continued consultations with his counterparts over the issue as he had separate phone calls with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters in Eskişehir late on Sunday after attending an iftar (fast-breaking dinner) arranged by the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) branch in the city, Davutoğlu was asked a question about his telephone conversation with Clinton.
“Recently, I have had talks with quite a few foreign ministers at their requests. I spoke to the French foreign minister in the morning and to the US secretary of state in the afternoon. I also have a request from the foreign minister of Jordan for a talk, which we will have shortly. Today [Sunday] our ambassador had a talk with the Syrian Foreign Minister [Walid] al-Moallem. We are following developments in the presence of all parties and conducting talks all the time,” Davutoğlu said.
“We are asking Assad to actualize the steps we agreed on in our talks with him,” he went on to say, referring to his meeting with Assad last Tuesday. “He had taken some positive steps in the first few days. Such as the withdrawal of tanks from Hama and providing the transportation of our press members to Hama, but operations have continued in various cities since Friday. It is not possible to condone these operations, which have claimed the lives of many civilians,” he said.
“We have requested an immediate halt of these operations, and we will continue to do so. We are calling on the Syrian administration to be more sensitive to its own people and not to further increase the tension. The necessary steps must be taken immediately. The operations causing civilian losses should be stopped, particularly in this holy month of Ramadan. We will keep on with our contacts in the coming days. The Syrian issue is a matter we have been following very closely; it is a matter we are directly concerned with in every aspect.”
Turkish officials underlined on Monday that the Turkish government’s contacts with their counterparts should be considered solely as “regular consultations,” but not as a particular effort for coordinating the international reaction directed at Syria. The same officials indicated that Turkey might not necessarily wait for the UN Security Council to make a decision on the issue if Turkey makes the determination that it must act with urgency.
The UN Security Council will discuss human rights and the growing humanitarian emergency in Syria at a special meeting, diplomats announced over the weekend.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay and UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will brief the Aug. 18 meeting, the French UN mission said in a Twitter statement on Saturday.
France and other European countries on the 15 member council asked for the new meeting as part of efforts to maintain pressure for international action against Assad.
Meanwhile, the number of Syrian people who fled the violence in their country and took shelter in Turkey dropped to 6,973 on Monday, the Turkish Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said in a statement.
AFAD noted that a total of 9,409 Syrians have returned to their country so far. Syrians are staying in six temporary tent-sites set up by the Turkish Red Crescent Society (Kızılay) in the towns of Altınözü, Yayladağı, Reyhanlı and the village of Apaydın in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay.