BEIRUT – Turkey’s prime minister compared Syria’s president to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, as Damascus defied international calls to end the crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising.
President Bashar 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 at the moment.”
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.
On Wednesday, Erdogan said he personally spoke 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 U.S. and Europe in imposing sanctions.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also spoke to Assad, demanding the immediate end of all military operations and mass arrests, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the U.N. Assad said that military and police operations had stopped, the statement said.
With tension rising, the U.N. said it has temporarily withdrawn about two dozen “nonessential” international staff from Syria because of security concerns. U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq also said some family members of U.N. staff have been relocated to other countries.