Turkish FM meets Syria's Assad
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Damascus Tuesday as international pressure on the embattled Syrian leader mounted with human rights groups saying at least 17 people were killed in Deir Ezzor.
AFP - Turkey and Russia piled new pressure on Syria Tuesday to end its deadly crackdown on protests as the death toll mounted with activists saying security forces killed at least 25 people.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met embattled President Bashar al-Assad to deliver a message that Ankara has "run out of patience" with the bloody crackdown.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem that Moscow wanted to see an end to the bloodshed and the launch of a dialogue to pull the country of the crisis.
Iraq also joined Arab outrage of Syria's crackdown, with parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemning the "oppression of freedom," after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait withdrew their envoys from Damascus.
Assad met Davutoglu in the presence of Muallem, the pro-government Dunia television channel reported.
They met as the death toll mounted, with rights activists reporting 25 deaths, including 17 people killed by security forces in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, scene of a deadly army assault Sunday that killed 42 people.
"At least 15 people were killed in different parts of Deir Ezzor which has been raided by tanks and vehicles mounted with machine guns," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, quoting activists at the scene.
"Corpses are littering the streets. Tanks are deployed at Al-Hurriya Square," where huge anti-regime protests have taken place over the past weeks, it said, adding that Deir Ezzor echoed with the sound of gunfire.
At least two hospitals were hit and a vast operation of arrests is underway, it added.
Four people, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in Binnish in Idlib province bordering Turkey, and four others died in the protest hub of Hama, in central Syria, activists said.
An activist in Hama said the city was calm after a military assault but suffering from "an acute shortage of food."
"The situation is unbearable, the army is posted on the outskirts of Hama and is preventing foodstuff such as vegetables, bread and flour from entering the city," the activist said.
On Monday the official SANA news agency, quoting a military source, said troops had left Hama "after completing a mission of protecting civilians" and tracking down "armed terrorist groups which had been wreaking havoc."
Funeral ceremonies were held Tuesday in the Homs military hospital for three members of the security forces killed by "terrorist" groups in the central city and in Hama, SANA said.
Assad named a new defence minister on Monday as he faced growing regional isolation, giving army chief General Daood Rajha, 64, the job.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday defended his security forces' deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests as the "duty of state" to confront "outlaws."
"Syria is on the path to reforms," he said, quoted by state news agency SANA.
"To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians," he said in a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansur.
Davutoglu's visit to Damascus was to pass on Ankara's message that it "has run out of patience" with the ongoing violence, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked Davutoglu to press Syria to "return its military to the barracks," while Damascus has warned that the minister would himself "receive a firm message" during the visit.
On their Facebook page, Syrian Revolution 2011, an engine of the uprising, invited Davutoglu to "come and pray" in a Damascus mosque "to find out from close up of the demands of the Syrian people."
The regime's repression of Syria's pro-democracy uprising has left more than 2,050 people dead, including almost 400 members of the security forces, the Syrian Observatory says.
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister reaffirmed Moscow's call for an end to violence and the launch of deep-rooted political reforms in Syria, during a phone call with Muallem, said a Russian statement.
It stressed the "priority of ending violence and continuing efforts to conduct comprehensive political, social and economic reforms in Syria without delay."
Russia, one of Syria's key arms suppliers, last week backed a UN Security Council statement condemning the "use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities" after refusing to back a tougher resolution.
Pressure on Syria also came from neighbouring Iraq.
"We call for an end to all non-peaceful activities, and what is happening in Syria, the shedding of blood and the oppression of freedom, is condemned and unacceptable," Iraqi speaker Nujaifi said in a statement.
Saudi King Abdullah recalled his ambassador from Syria late Saturday and urged Damascus to "stop the killing machine and the bloodshed ... before it is too late," warning the country could be swept into "chaos."
Kuwait and Bahrain, who with Saudi Arabia are part of the energy-rich six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, also recalled their envoys.
A chorus of Arab and Muslim condemnation of the bloodshed in Syria built up throughout the weekend and into Monday when Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based top Sunni authority, said the crackdown "has gone too far."
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said Syria must launch a "serious dialogue" with protesters who have rallied almost daily since mid-March, urging reforms in a country ruled by the Baath party for nearly 50 years.
But following talks in Cairo with the Arab League chief, the head of Iran's parliament's foreign affairs committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, claimed the United States was trying to destabilise Syria, a key Tehran ally.