International Community Ramps Up Pressure on Syria

Posted August 9th, 2011 at 7:30 am (UTC-5)
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Turkey's foreign minister is visiting Syria Tuesday to press the Syrian government to end its violent crackdown on opposition protesters.

Ahmet Davutoglu's trip to Syria comes after Turkey said it was running out of patience with its neighbor. It also follows moves by Gulf Arab nations Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain to recall their ambassadors from Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Davutoglu would deliver a “decisive” message to the Syrian leadership.

President Bashar al-Assad is facing increased international pressure to cease military operations against demonstrators.

Rights activists say Syrian troops backed by tanks have killed hundreds of people in recent days in the central city of Hama, the eastern town of Deir el-Zour and other areas. Activists reported more operations and deaths Tuesday in Hama and other towns. Witnesses said armored vehicles entered the town of Binnish Tuesday, not far from the Turkish border.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington is “heartened” by the Arab world's tougher stand on Syria and sees it as a “further sign” of international condemnation of Mr. Assad's actions.

On Monday, Syrian state media said President Assad had appointed army chief of staff, General Dawoud Rajha, as the new defense minister. He replaces General Ali Habib, whom Syrian state media say is ill. It is the most significant change to the Syrian government since nationwide protests against Mr. Assad's rule began in March.

President Assad has defended his violent crackdown on dissidents, saying it is a national duty to deal with what he called “outlaws” who cut off roads and, in his words, “terrorize” people. Speaking during talks with Lebanon's visiting foreign minister Sunday, Mr. Assad also said Syria is on a path to reform.