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.