The Syrian military's tank-backed assault on the city of Hama, which killed dozens of civilians in the scene of a 1982 massacre, is unjustifiable, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Monday, lamenting that the attack marred the spirit of Ramadan.
“The timing is utterly wrong, taking place on the eve of Ramadan. We strongly condemn it," Davutoğlu told reporters before departing for a visit to Norway, where he is due to attend a funeral for a Turkish girl, Gizem Doğan, who was killed in a shooting spree in the island of Utoya last weekend. "We in Turkey were unable to enjoy the spirit of Ramadan because of what happened in Syria.”
“While we were expecting peace to be ensured in accordance with the spirit of Ramadan and the [Syrian] public to be assured that reforms will be carried out, the fact that we begin Ramadan in a bloodier environment is never acceptable and this development is not something over which anyone can remain silent,” Turkish President Abdullah Gül also said on Monday.
Davutoğlu also criticized the dispatch of tanks to a residential area, saying it was obvious that such an operation would result in casualties. “It is impossible to approve the timing and methods of this operation,” he said. “It is unacceptable that Ramadan begin with casualties while we were expecting the Syrian regime to implement reforms swiftly.”
Despite criticism, however, Davutoğlu also said Turkey remains in contact with the Syrian government, advising it to act with "commonsense and restraint."
Davutoğlu and Gül's remarks came after a Foreign Ministry statement on Sunday, which said that Turkey was “deeply disappointed” and “saddened” by the Syrian assault in the city of Hama. Estimates of Sunday's death toll, which were impossible to verify, ranged from around 75 people to nearly 140 on a day when the attacks began before dawn and witnesses said they were too frightened to collect corpses from the streets.
“Along with the rest of the Muslim world, Turkey is deeply disappointed and saddened by these developments on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan when it was expecting efforts to create an atmosphere of peace and quiet,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in the statement, noting that Hama residents have avoided violence and have been trying to maintain dialogue with the Syrian government since an uprising against the Syrian regime began five months ago.
Turkey, which enjoyed close ties with Syria, has toughened its criticism of the way President Bashar al-Assad handled anti-regime protest, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once calling it “savagery.”
Erdoğan, once one of Assad's main allies, said in May, “We do not want to see another Hama massacre,” and warned the 45-year-old president that it would be hard to contain the consequences if it were repeated.
Hama is where Assad's father crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood revolt 29 years ago by razing neighborhoods and killing many thousands of people.
“The ongoing developments leave open to question the Syrian administration's sincerity and will to solve the problem by peaceful means,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“Turkey reiterates its call on the Syrian government to stop operations and use political means, dialogue and peaceful initiatives for a solution,” it added.
European leaders also criticized the Syrian regime, saying they were shocked and appalled by Syrian forces' use of tanks to storm Hama. Some analysts regarded the offensive, as an attempt to deter further unrest during the Muslim holy month of fasting.
“This attack and the continuing crackdown in other Syrian cities is even more unacceptable coming on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan,” said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “The Syrian army and security forces have the duty to protect citizens, not to massacre them indiscriminately.”
EU governments plan to extend sanctions against Assad's government on Monday by slapping asset freezes and travel bans on five more people. The EU has already imposed sanctions on Assad and at least two dozen officials and targeted military-associated companies in Syria.
“I am appalled by the reports that the Syrian security forces have stormed Hama with tanks and other heavy weapons this morning, killing dozens of people,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. “The attacks are all the more shocking on the eve of the Muslim holy month. President Bashar is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis.”
Italy called for a UN Security Council move on Syria, something opposed by Russia up to now.