President Abdullah Gül has rejected criticisms from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Ankara's support of opposition groups in the country is unacceptable, stating events in Syria are a common concern for the international community.
Assad, in an interview with Russian state broadcaster Russia 24 earlier this week, said his government was fighting against foreign mercenaries trying to overthrow him, not innocent civilians seeking democracy. He claimed weapons were smuggled into Syria over Turkish and Lebanese borders, but added there was no evidence proving that the Turkish government was involved in smuggling activities.
Responding to Turkish leaders calling for his resignation, Assad said in the interview that “there are some Turkish politicians who think they are smart, who are carried away by fantasies,” according to Turkish excerpts from the interview carried by the private Cihan news agency on Thursday.
Gül said Assad's criticism would have been valid had problems between Turkey and Syria arisen from a bilateral dispute. “This is a matter between the Syrian people and the regime. Issues of human rights are no longer matters solely for the governments concerned. They are a common concern for the entire world,” he told reporters in Ankara before flying to Chicago to attend a NATO summit.
Turkey has suggested that it may invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter, the collective defense clause, over the Syrian crisis after two Turkish nationals and two Syrians were injured by bullets fired across the Syrian border during a clash between Syrian forces and opposition fighters.
But Foreign Ministry officials said earlier this week that the Turkish delegation did not plan to raise the issue during the NATO summit on May 20-21.
Gül said on Thursday that the crisis in Syria was on the agenda of the UN but not on that of NATO.
In the interview Assad advised against foreign interference in Syria, warning neighboring nations that have served as transit points for contraband weapons being smuggled into the country that "if you sow chaos in Syria you may be infected by it yourself."
He said that Turkey was aiding the opposition politically, despite there being no evidence that it has assisted opposition groups by the illicit provision of arms. “But we all know that they [the Turks] might be turning a blind eye to other types of activities, including [arms] smuggling,” Assad said.
Assad also stated that his government has detained foreign mercenaries and was planning to show them to the world soon.
Earlier this month Syria sent the United Nations the names of 26 foreign nationals it claimed had been detained after traveling to Syria to fight in opposition to the regime. It said 20 of those were members of al-Qaeda who had entered Syria from Turkey.
On Thursday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he believed al-Qaeda was responsible for two suicide attacks in Damascus on May 10 that killed 55 people.