Soon after the Syrian army’s assault on Hama, which took dozens of lives on Sunday, Turkey hardened its position against the Syrian administration, with Turkish President Abdullah Gül condemning the bloody development that came in place of much anticipated peace efforts and deepened the already existing anxiety over the developments in Syria.
“The incidents of Sunday simply horrified us. I am shaken by the use of heavy artillery and tanks against the people of Hama, right on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan,” Gül told the Anatolia news agency on Monday. Gül called on the Syrian administration to maintain peace and engage in reforms in a speedy fashion, warning Syrian officials that it is not possible to remain silent in the face of such attacks the whole world witnesses in the age of communication.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu described the attack as “unjustifiable,” as he expressed regret over the tank and sniper-led operation right before Ramadan. “It is impossible to approve of the timing and methods of this operation,” Davutoğlu was quoted as saying on Monday before he left for Norway on a condolence visit. “It is unacceptable for Ramadan to begin with casualties while we were expecting the Syrian regime to implement reforms swiftly,” stated the minister as he criticized the deployment of tanks to Hama, saying it was obvious that such an operation would result in casualties.
One day earlier, Davutoğlu called on Syria to stop the crackdown on civilians and start “peaceful initiatives” instead of the violence that has disrupted stability in Syria for months and raised doubts over President Bashar al-Assad’s intentions to resolve the issue through peaceful means.
Speaking to the press from the central Anatolian province of Konya on Sunday, Davutoğlu called on the Syrian government to “immediately cease the assaults, which have claimed many civilian lives in Syria, particularly in Hama,” and added that Turkey was closely following developments in the region, waiting for a quick resolution to bring peace and harmony to the nation.
“We are going through a critical time in Syria and Libya,” Davutoğlu said, referring to the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan, which might bring existing chaos to new heights, as large crowds gathering for congregational prayers every day this month may end up engaging in clashes similar to the ones Syria witnessed after Friday prayers between protesting civilians and security forces.
“We hope for increased awareness and sensitivity to oppression and cruelty as we stand in solidarity with the people of all allied countries,” the minister was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency as he touched on the recent killings in Hama. “It is not at all possible to excuse an operation that targets civilians during this holy time. We have a very clear position on the issue and we will uphold it; the assaults in Syria and in the Middle East in a broader sense must be stopped immediately.”
Underlining a hardened tone in Turkey’s approach toward Syria’s current administration, Davutoğlu noted that “from now on Turkey will place great importance on the implementation of the necessary measures in line with the demands of the people.” Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry voiced similar objections and doubts about the intentions of the Assad administration in a press release that revealed a severance of ties between the two former allies, which share an almost 900 kilometer long visa-free common border and a deep-rooted historical relationship as a legacy of the Ottoman Empire.
“Throughout this process, Turkey has mobilized all the resources at its disposal to keep close contact with the Syrian administration, to address the needs of our Syrian brothers and to provide its constructive contributions to the reform process,” the statement read and stated Turkey’s disappointment with the course of the process, saying, “However, we see with deep regret that violence and the loss of lives have increasingly been the case.”
“Along with the continuing operations in Homs, Deir ez-Zor and Daraa, we have learned that many have been killed and wounded in the operations launched this morning (Sunday) against the residents of Hama, who have refrained from violence from the outset and strived to engage in dialogue with the administration,” the ministry said in a tone that stressed the change in the attitude of the country, which is still home to thousands of Syrian refugees who fled their countries in fear of persecution by the Syrian forces back in June.
The assault on Sunday killed around 100 people, but the toll is disputed as locals said they were not able to retrieve bodies from the streets out of fear for their own lives. In a May speech, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned Syria of the possible results of an armed intervention, saying, “We do not want to see another Hama massacre,” referring to a massacre carried out by Assad’s father and predecessor, which resulted in tens of thousands of casualties, as the administration silenced an armed revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982.
“The current developments raise suspicions regarding the intention and sincerity of the Syrian administration to resolve the issue through peaceful means,” the statement remarked, echoing the international opinion that has been quickly tightening around Assad since the democracy revolts started in January. The statement concluded by reiterating Turkey’s belief that military operations resulting in civilian casualties do not help restore order in the country but block the path of much needed reforms. According to Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster & Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) statistics released on Monday, the number of Syrians seeking shelter in Turkey dropped to 7,753 after topping 16,000 at the height of the clashes around the border a month ago. The Syrians are currently staying in six temporary tent-sites set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in the towns of Altınözü, Yayladağı and Reyhanlı and the Apaydın village of Turkey’s southern province of Hatay.