Turkey’s FM Visits Syria Amid Protest Crackdown

Posted August 9th, 2011 at 9:40 am (UTC-5)
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Turkey's foreign minister has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to press Syria to end its violent crackdown on dissent.

Turkish officials say Ahmet Davutoglu traveled to Syria on Tuesday to deliver a “decisive” message to the Syrian leadership. Turkey has said it was running out of patience with its neighbor.

The meeting follows moves by the Gulf Arab nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain to recall their ambassadors from Syria.

President Assad is facing increased international pressure to stop military operations against the 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 on Tuesday. They say at least five civilians were killed in government raids around Hama. The state-run news agency said military units began pulling out of Hama Monday after completing their mission of, in its words, “protecting civilians” and tracking down “armed terrorist groups.”

Also, witnesses say armored vehicles entered the town of Binnish Tuesday, not far from the Turkish border.

On Monday, Syrian state media said President Assad had appointed the 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 leadership since nationwide protests against Mr. Assad's rule began in March.

President Assad has defended his crackdown on dissidents, saying it is a national duty to deal with what he called “outlaws” who block 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.