Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged the world community not to remain silent to continued bloodshed in Syria, saying the children massacred there are also children of humanity.
Addressing a summit of the Alliance of Civilizations, a U.N.-backed forum launched in 2008 to promote understanding between East and the West in Istanbul on Thursday, Erdogan referred to the weekend massacre in the Syrian village of Houla where more than 100 people were killed, most of them women and children. He described the victims as "our children who are massacred in Hama, Homs and Houla, as much as they are the children of desperate Syrian families."
Addressing the conference, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to stop the attacks and warned one more massacre such as the one perpetrated in Houla could plunge the country into civil war. "The massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into catastrophic civil war -- a civil war from which the country would never recover," he was quoted by the Turkish media as saying.
Ban voiced frustration with the continuing violence, saying that the U.N. peacekeepers operating in Syria as part of the peace plan of his predecessor Kofi Annan are not there to witness atrocities. "Let me state plainly, however: The U.N. did not deploy in Syria just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents. We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities," he said.
The U.N. has reported that fewer than 20 people out of the 108 who perished in Houla were killed by shelling, with the remaining victims shot at close range. The Syrian regime has denied responsibility for the massacre, while the U.N. says pro-regime "shabbiha" militias are strongly suspected to have carried out most of the killings.
For Turkey, one of the most outspoken critics of President Bashar al-Assad, the Houla massacre is a turning point in the Syrian crisis that has woken the world up to the atrocities that have been occurring since anti-regime protests began 15 months ago. Turkey has been sheltering more than 15,000 Syrian refugees who fled repression of the Assad regime.
In an interview on Thursday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said "the massacre has made it clear that the Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy at home." The Houla killings has also further undermined the U.N.-backed peace plan of Annan, under which a cease-fire is supposed to have been in place since April 12, he said.
In a statement following the massacre, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the international community should now raise its voice over the situation in Syria, but whether Ankara's is calling for greater external pressure on the regime involves a call for military action remains uncertain.
Davutoglu said all measures should be exhausted before considering military action but noted that lack of international action in Bosnia in the 1990s resulted in 300,000 deaths. "What happened in Houla is a crime against humanity as grave as the Srebrenica tragedy," Davutoglu told broadcaster NTV.
He said the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have blocked attempts to adopt anti-Assad resolutions in recent months, should display a firm resolve to prevent a civil war in Syria. Davutoglu said Turkey had never encouraged the Syrian Opposition to resort to armed struggle in order to topple the regime and that the Syrian Opposition took up weapons after Army defectors refused to use force against protesters and joined the ranks of anti-Assad groups, dismissing Syrian claims that there are foreign fighters in the country.
According to Davutoglu, the Syrian regime is now a source of instability in the region, and the instability will only deepen further as long as Assad is in power. "There could be divisions within Syria and de facto authorities [governing different parts of Syria] could emerge," he warned.
by RTT Staff Writer
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