Turkey: Syria withdraws tanks from Hama, allows media access

Turkey: Syria withdraws tanks from Hama, allows media access

A soldier walks near an army tank on a street in Hama, in this undated still image taken from an amateur video, taken on August 7, 2011 and made available to Reuters on August 8, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

August 10, 2011, Wednesday/ 15:06:00

The Syrian military has withdrawn tanks from the besieged city of Hama, a sign that talks between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday are yielding results, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday.

Erdoğan, addressing a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Ankara, said Turkish Ambassador to Syria Ömer Önhon visited Hama on Wednesday. “He told us that the tanks began to leave the city. This is a sign that our initiative is producing results,” said Erdoğan.

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu met with Assad for more than six hours on Tuesday, discussing the steps that Syria should take in order to stop violence in the neighboring country. He said after returning home that the actions Syria will take in the coming days will be significant. The siege of Hama, the scene of a 1982 massacre, had begun on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Davutoğlu, speaking minutes after Erdoğan, also said the ambassador had confirmed that tanks and heavy artillery have been withdrawn from Hama.

Some press members were also allowed to visit Hama for the first time since the military offensive began, Davutoğlu said, noting that this was one of the pieces of advice conveyed to Assad on Tuesday. Journalists, including both Turkish and foreign media representatives, are to head to Hama in the coming days to cover the events there, according to Davutoğlu, who emphasized that media access to other cities of Syria was also important.

He appeared satisfied with the Syrian steps, saying the Syrian government took a major step less than 24 hours after their talks in Damascus.

Erdoğan said an end to the bloodshed and use of force against protesters was a priority. "Promises of reform are not convincing anyone when people die," he said.

Erdoğan lashes out at opposition on ‘foreign tool' claims

Erdoğan also touched on a domestic political controversy, which broke out when Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), accused the government of acting as a “tool of foreign powers” when Davutoğlu met with Assad in Damascus in remarks on Tuesday.

Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), also slammed Davutoğlu's visit to Syria, saying on Tuesday that he travelled to Syria “not only as the foreign minister of Turkey, but also as an envoy of the US.”

“To say that the minister conveyed messages not from Turkey but from another country is a sign of negligence, if not that of an irremediable ignorance,” Erdoğan said. “They must be looking in the mirror because this is what they used to do in the past.”

Erdoğan also criticized Kılıçdaroğlu for describing the Turkish efforts to end bloodshed in Syria as “romanticism.” “Shame on you,” said Erdoğan, emphasizing that Turkey was striving to help with the resolution of problems in Syria in democratic ways.

Erdoğan also dismissed the main opposition leader's claim that -- contrary to what Erdoğan had said before -- Syria is not a domestic issue for Turkey. “Some people are disturbed by our characterization of events in Syria as a domestic issue for Turkey. We described it as a domestic issue on the basis of the close ties that we have with Syria, the kinship and a brotherhood that was so strong that it made a visa-free travel regime possible,” said Erdoğan.