Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will visit Syria next week to communicate critical messages to Syrian authorities, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, issuing a stark warning that Turkey will not remain a bystander if the five-month crisis in the neighboring country deepens.
“We have been very patient until now, waiting to see whether we can fix this; whether they will listen to what we have been saying,” Erdoğan said in a speech during a iftar dinner in İstanbul on Saturday. “But our patience is running out now.”
Turkey, a close friend of Syria, has become increasingly critical of the way the Syrian government has responded to anti-regime protests that began in March. Erdoğan has called the Syrian crackdown on protests “savagery” and warned President Bashar al-Assad against repeating atrocities similar to the 1982 massacre in Hama.
But Syrian government forces launched an assault on Hama last Sunday, cutting off electricity, phone services and internet and blocking supplies to the city of 800,000, while shelling neighborhoods and sending in tanks and ground raids. Rights group say at least 100 people have been killed since Sunday, with some estimates putting the number as high as 250.
Erdoğan said Davutoğlu will visit Syria on Tuesday. “He will talk with the government and convey our message in a determined manner,” he said. “The ensuing process will be shaped by the response we get.”
The prime minister reiterated that what happens in Syria is an “internal affair” for Turkey, not an issue of foreign policy, given the 850-kilometer border between the two countries and deep cultural, historical ties. Turkish leaders have repeatedly criticized the Syrian government for the crackdown but Erdoğan's remarks are the first to suggest that Turkey might take action if Assad fails to heed its calls for reform to respond to protesters' demands.
“We cannot remain a bystander to what happens in Syria. We are hearing voices from Syria and we must respond by doing whatever we are required to do,” he said, without elaborating.
On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç described the Hama assault as “nothing short of an atrocity” and said Turkey “cannot remain friendly with whoever committed this crime.”
In June, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that Turkey told Western officials that it might launch a military operation in Syria's northern provinces, including Hama, to overthrow the Assad regime. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has denied that report.