Turkey called for Syria to immediately halt a violent crackdown on protesters and pass democratic reforms, in a meeting on Thursday between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a top Syrian envoy as the European Union began work to toughen sanctions against Syria.
The crackdown, which Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has condemned as “savagery,” has tested relations between the two countries, and Turkey has given sanctuary to some 8,900 Syrian refugees who have streamed across the border.
“We want a strong, stable, prosperous Syria. To achieve this we believe it necessary to implement the comprehensive reform process toward democratization guaranteed by (President) Bashar Al Assad,” Mr. Davutoglu told reporters after three hours of talks with Syria’s Hassan Turkmani on Thursday morning, according to Reuters.
“In order to achieve this the violence must stop immediately. Yesterday I clearly saw the fear in the eyes of the people and I shared this,” he added, describing talks with Mr. Turkmani as friendly and Syria as Turkey’s “closest friend.”
Mr. Davutoglu on Wednesday talked to refugees at the border, including wounded men in camp hospitals at Yayladagi, across from the Syrian town of Jisr Al Shughour, 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. Refugees chanted “People want freedom!” and “Erdogan help us!”
On Thursday, Syrian tanks and armored vehicles reinforced positions around the northern town of Maarat Al Numaan.
Mr. Turkmani on Wednesday met Prime Minister Erdogan, who has also called for rapid reform in Syria. Mr. Turkmani said then Syrian refugees staying in makeshift camps in Turkey’s border province of Hatay would soon be returning to Syria.
President Assad asked to send an emissary when he called Mr. Erdogan on Tuesday to congratulate him on winning a third term in office.
On Thursday afternoon Mr. Davutoglu was to meet with Ankara’s ambassadors to the Middle East, United States and some EU countries to discuss Syria and policy across the region.
Former advisor to Mr. Erdogan, Nabi Avci, said Turkey was dismayed by Syria’s response to its requests that it refrain from using violence against civilians and undertake reforms.
“Turkey’s efforts to bring about peaceful change in Syria will continue,” Mr. Avci said in Istanbul.
“The response of the Syrian regime so far has been, unfortunately, unhelpful and disappointing,” said Mr. Avci, elected a member of parliament for the ruling AK party in last Sunday’s vote.
Asked about the possibility the Turkish military could enforce a buffer zone on Syrian territory to protect civilians, Mr. Avci said Turkey had no plan for military intervention in Syria.
But he said Turkey constantly reminded the Syrian government that intervention could become part of the international community’s agenda, and urged Damascus to make rational choices, according to Reuters.
“We are trying our best for the last chance for the Syrian regime,” he said.
Preparations are being made for another influx of refugees far to the east along the 800-kilometers (500-mile) border, with more tent camps able to shelter 10,000 people being set up near the Turkish city of Mardin and the town of Nusaybin.
High-ranking Syrian soldiers and police are among those seeking refuge at the camps in Turkey, state-run Anatolian news agency reported. Most recently a lieutenant colonel and four other soldiers arrived in Hatay on Wednesday evening after deserting.
There were also increasing numbers of Syrians arriving at the border but remaining on the Syrian side in makeshift tents.
All hotel rooms had been booked up in Hatay ahead of the visit by United Nations refugee agency goodwill envoy Angelina Jolie. The actress was expected to arrive on Friday afternoon.
The European Union, meanwhile, began work to toughen sanctions against the 23-million-people country, looking at adding firms and individuals to a list of allies of President Assad already hit by sanctions.
Several diplomatic sources said experts from the 27-nation bloc were discussing ways Thursday of “widening sanctions” against Damascus.
“The idea is to move up a level,” said a diplomat who asked not to be identified. “Talks are focusing on new names and entities,” he said according to AFP.
The EU to date has slapped two sets of sanctions against Assad’s regime over its savage crackdown on protesters, with EU foreign ministers late May adding the 47-year-old president to a blacklist of 23 Syrian officials hit by an assets freeze and travel ban.
Sources told AFP however that new proposals might not be ready for approval by foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg next Monday.
Further sanctions could be approved at a EU summit in a week, on June 23-24.
Several European nations—notably Britain, France, Germany and Portugal—have joined Washington in pushing for a UN resolution condemning the crackdown but this is opposed by permanent Security Council members China and Russia.
Beijing and Moscow on Thursday issued a joint statement opposing outside interference in the unrest in the Arab world.
Also on Thursday, the United States condemned Syria’s “outrageous use of violence” after Syrian rights groups reported nearly 1,300 civilians killed in three months of bloodshed.
(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: email@example.com)