Syria defies Turkish mediator

Posted: August 18, 2011

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Turkey's prime minister compared Syria's president to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday, as Damascus defied international calls to end the crackdown on a five-month uprising.

President Bashar al-Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops, and snipers in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in August, killing hundreds and detaining thousands.

"We made our calls [to Gadhafi], but unfortunately we got no result," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. "The same thing is happening with Syria."

The conflict in Libya, which began a month before Syria's unrest, has descended into a civil war as Gadhafi defies calls to end the bloodshed.

Erdogan said he had spoken to Assad and sent his foreign minister to Damascus, but "despite all of this, they are continuing to strike civilians."

Turkey, a neighbor and former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus' crackdown. But Turkey, Syria's most important trade partner, has not joined the United States and Europe in imposing sanctions.

With tension rising, the United Nations said it had temporarily withdrawn about two dozen "nonessential" international staff from the country because of security concerns. U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq also said some family members of U.N. staff had been relocated to other countries.

The government insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out extremists fomenting unrest in the country. In comments carried on the state-run news agency, Assad appeared to lash out at the international reproach, saying his country would not give up its "dignity and sovereignty."

Human-rights groups and witnesses accuse Syrian troops of firing on largely unarmed protesters and say more than 1,800 civilians have been killed since mid-March.

In Latakia, a Mediterranean port city that has been subjected to a four-day military assault, security centers were overflowing with detainees Wednesday, forcing authorities to hold hundreds of other prisoners in the city's main football stadium and a movie theater, said Rami Abdul-Raham, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Detention centers are packed," he said.

In Damascus, the regime focused its raids on the predominantly Kurdish neighborhood of Rukneddine, where security forces detained dozens after cutting electricity in the area, the observatory said. The neighborhood has witnessed intense anti-regime demonstrations in recent weeks.

The regime's recent military operations have also targeted the central city of Homs, where security forces shot dead one person and wounded three during raids Wednesday, according to the observatory.

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