Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said earlier last month that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a “good friend of mine,” slammed the crackdown on protesters by Syrian authorities on Thursday during a televised interview and said the “savagery cannot be digested.”
Erdoğan's remarks are the biggest departure from his earlier cautious approach in handling unrest in Syria, with which his government has worked out a historic reconciliation over the past few years.
Erdoğan personally attacked Assad's brother, Maher Assad, for the brutal clampdown and said that Syria, unlike Libya, is seen as akin to a Turkish domestic affair.
Thousands of elite troops led by Assad's brother converged on Wednesday on a restive northern area, and neighboring villages warned that the convoys of tanks were approaching in one of the biggest military deployments since the 11-week uprising began. The elite Syrian military unit believed to be led by Assad's younger brother, Maher, had all but surrounded Jisr al-Shughour, leaving open just one route to the border to Turkey 20 kilometers away, sources say. The operation in the town involves the elite 4th Division commanded by Maher. The younger Assad also commands the Republican Guard, which protects the regime and is believed to have played a key role in suppressing the protests.
"Sadly, their actions are inhumane," Erdoğan said, referring to Maher Assad and his team, which has been ferocious in crushing the dissent. "Now the barbarity… Now think [soldiers] pose [for a photo] in such an ugly way at the bedside of women who they killed… that these images cannot be digested," Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan noted that developments in Syria have also put the UN Security Council at work, hinting that Turkey will not support the Syrian government as European countries and the US prepare to vote on a resolution that would condemn Syria over the violence.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal have asked the UN Security Council to condemn Assad, although veto-wielding Russia has said it would oppose such a move.
"There are now preparations [in the Security Council]. We can't [support] Syria amidst all this as Turkey. We still have relatives [in Syria]," the prime minister said.
Erdoğan recalled his telephone conversation with Assad several days ago but complained that the Syrian government had shrugged off his calls. "I spoke with Mr. Bashar al-Assad four to five days ago. I explained this situation very clearly and openly. Despite this, they take this very lightly. And sadly they tell us different things," Erdoğan said.
Speaking about the increasingly growing number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Erdoğan said Turkey cannot close its doors to those who want to seek asylum in Turkey. How long will this continue? "This is another issue," Erdoğan concluded.