Turkey raises pressure on Assad, tank assaults expand

AMMAN, (Reuters) – Turkey demanded yesterday that  Syria’s leaders stop the killing of civilians and said it would  watch events there in the coming days, raising pressure on  President Bashar al-Assad, who said his forces would continue to  pursue “terrorist groups”.

“Developments in the coming days will be critical, for both  Syria and Turkey,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told  a news conference in Ankara after returning from talks in  Damascus. “Turkey’s main and first aim is for the bloodshed to  be stopped, and (for) an end to civilian deaths.”

Syrian tanks pressed on with an armoured offensive in the  eastern city of Deir al-Zor, capital of an oil-producing  province on the border with Iraq’s Sunni heartland. Residents  said snipers killed one person yesterday as tanks thrust into  main neighbourhoods and roundabouts in the city.

Assad’s forces also raided villages around the besieged city  of Hama, broadening a 10-day offensive there, and stormed the  town of Binnish near the border with Turkey, activists and  residents said.

The Syrian National Organisation for Human Rights said     Syrian forces killed at least 30 civilians in the assaults, most  of them north of Hama, including two girls aged 6 and 11 from  the same family.

Davutoglu said he had stated Turkey’s expectations clearly  in talks with Assad and other Syrian officials and had passed on  a written message from President Abdullah Gul and an oral  message from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to Assad.

Turkish leaders, who once backed Assad, have repeatedly  urged him to halt the violence and make urgent reforms after  street protests against his autocratic 11-year rule erupted five  months ago.

“We hope that those steps that will stop the bloodshed will  be taken,” Davutoglu said.

Assad, who described the uprising as a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria, said there would be no let-up in military action.

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