Last Updated: Thu Dec 01, 2011 20:59 pm (KSA) 17:59 pm (GMT)

Turkey offers Syrian civilian opposition, army rebels ground for 1st meeting as EU bolsters sanctions

Syrian protesters in al-Baidah town near Homs carry a banner that reads: “Yes to freedom, no to sectarianism, no to Assad’s gang.” (Reuters)
Syrian protesters in al-Baidah town near Homs carry a banner that reads: “Yes to freedom, no to sectarianism, no to Assad’s gang.” (Reuters)

The main Syrian civilian opposition held its first meeting with the country’s rebel army earlier this week in southern Turkey, an official from the civilian group told AFP on Thursday.

“We agreed that the duty of the Free Syrian Army is to protect people, but not to attack,” said Halid Hodja, a member of the Syrian National Council, adding that the meeting was held in the southern province of Hatay on November 28.

Turkey, a NATO member with a 900-km (560-km) long border with Syria, said it does not want military intervention in its fellow Muslim state but is ready for any scenario and has raised the possibility of establishing a buffer zone should there be a mass exodus of Syrians fleeing worsening violence.

Istanbul attack

In related news, Turkish papers Thursday argued that an attack by a Libyan gunman at Istanbul’s top tourist spot was a warning to Ankara over its support to Syrian dissidents.

The gunman had arrived at the Topkapi Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait in a car registered in neighboring Syria.
Two people were wounded and the gunman was shot dead by police.

The Turkish authorities refused to speculate on the attack’s motive but the press saw it as a consequence of Ankara’s open support for the Syrian groups challenging President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

“Raid on Ottomans, message to Ankara,” was the Taraf daily’s headline.

“There is a letter from Bashar al-Assad,” wrote the mass circulation Milliyet’s columnist Asli Aydintasbas, adding that the attack was “clear” message from Damascus.

She stressed that Assad had recently given an interview in which he accused some leaders in Turkey of seeking to rebuild Ottoman empire, in a swipe at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The columnist said the choice of the target in Wednesday’s attack was further evidence of Syrian involvement as Topkapi palace was the “heart of the Ottoman Empire.”

Ahmet Altan, editor-in-chief of daily Taraf, said: “The Syrian registered car... is a clear sign for linking the attack with Syria.”

Other newspapers were more cautious, stressing that the gunman appeared to be mentally ill and warning against hasty conclusions.

“The overall picture (of the attack) does not allow us to directly establish a Syria connection but it creates legitimate doubts,” wrote veteran journalist Murat Yetkin in the daily Radikal.

EU bolsters sanctions

European Union governments agreed on Thursday to increase pressure on Syria by adding 11 entities and 12 people to its sanctions list, an EU official said.

The list of names will become public as early as Friday and while details were not immediately available, diplomats have said Syrian state oil company General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) would be among those targeted.

The measures are part of a broader EU push to increase pressure on the government of President Bashar al-Assad over a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Earlier on Thursday, the Arab League put Syrian VIPs on a travel ban list while European Union foreign ministers were preparing to impose a raft of economic sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad to press him to end the crackdown.

Rising fear

Kuwait on Thursday called on its citizens in Syria to leave for their own safety, following a similar call by Saudi Arabia this week urging Saudis to leave also and avoid getting caught in Assad’s clampdown on unrest.

“The Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department has called on (Kuwaiti) nationals currently based in the Syrian Arab Republic to leave the country to ensure their safety,” the Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA said.

“The Department also advised Kuwaiti nationals to refrain from visiting Syria at this time due to lack of security.”

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