SYRIA: Regime appears to ignore Turkey; more protesters killed
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a firm message to the regime in Damascus on Wednesday afternoon, urging the increasingly isolated yet defiant President Bashar Assad to order the removal of tanks from the streets, and giving Assad 10 to 15 days to change his ways.
But many Syrians didn't hold their breath. Rather than heed the call of its larger neighbor to north, Assad had sent tanks into the towns of Dimnish, Taftanaz and Sermin, only miles away from the Syrian border with Turkey, activists told Babylon & Beyond.
According to the activists, 10,000 soldiers with 32 tanks entered the border area, broke into homes, looted personal belongings and arrested 25 youths.
"They would break into the house and if they didn't find the fathers or the brothers, they would take the children instead," said Oday Al Sayyed, a member of the Local Coordination Committee in Dimnish.
"I think expanding their offensive along the border is a clear response -- even more a challenge -- to Turkey," Al Sayyed said.
Erdogan's comments were harsher than those of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a two-day diplomatic hash-out between Syria and Turkey that began with a six-hour meeting between Davutoglu and Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.
"We hope that the international community supports stability in Syria in order for military operations to discontinue," Davutoglu advised in a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday.
According to Davutoglu, the Turkish ambassador visited the Syrian restive town of Hama, scene of some of the bloodiest violence, and confirmed that Assad's military forces and tanks had moved out of the city.
“He told us that the tanks began to leave the city. This is a sign that our initiative is producing results,” Erdogan said.
Syrian officials acknowledged no such change. The official Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, reported Wednesday that Assad "will not be tolerant in pursuing the armed terrorist groups for the sake of protecting [the h]omeland's stability and citizens' security."
Despite such declarations, the Turkish foreign minister remained cautious yet optimistic.
"If people continue to be killed then we will not get the result we want. We hope that there are positive steps made by Syria in the next few days. It will be good if improvements are made directly after our talks and less than 24 hours later," said Davutoglu.
Activists also reported mass arrests in the southwestern city of Dara as well as other Damascus suburbs.
"All of this diplomacy is meaningless. This is our battle and we know that no one has our backs if they find shared interests with Assad's regime," said one 25-year-old activist and student in Damascus who spoke on condition of anonymity.
-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut
Photo: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Syrian President Bashar Assad meet in Damascus. Credit: Syrian Arab News Agency.