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Turkey risks Syria's friendship in last-ditch effort to end violence

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu is in Damascus today to warn Syria's President Assad against continuing his crackdown on the country's uprising.

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“The process from now on will take shape according to the response [al-Assad] will give and the practices on the ground,” Erdoğan said Saturday. “Our patience is running thin… We do not see the Syria issue as an external one. It is an internal issue for us. We share a border of 850 kilometers, we have kinship, historical and cultural ties and … we cannot just watch what is happening there.”

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At least 2,000 Syrians are estimated to have been killed in the uprising so far, including almost 400 members of the security forces. Some 300 Syrians have been killed in the past week alone – a fact that is revolting to many Muslims, since the deaths came during the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Turkish foreign minister's trip today follows a Turkish security summit chaired yesterday by Erdogan to discuss Turkey's options vis-á-vis Syria. In addition, US Mideast envoy Fred Hof visited the Turkish capital before Davutoğlu's trip so that the US and Turkey could coordinate their responses to Syria. The US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has raised the ire of the Assad regime by traveling to cities at the heart of the uprising. The regime has since restricted him to Damascus.

The Turkish government believes that the international community won't take further action against Assad's regime unless Turkey opts to as well. While Mr. Davutoğlu was expected to warn Assad that he could face isolation similar to that of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, Turkey and others have made clear that a military operation similar to that in Libya is unlikely.

“The situation here is not like the one in Libya. No one can do anything on Syria without Turkey… I don’t think that military action against Syria is likely but the process may lead to an embargo, isolation and a Saddam [Hussein]-like situation” for Assad, an unnamed foreign ministry official told Hurriyet on Sunday.

Turkey has a number of requests for Syria. The first priority is an immediate halt to military operations against the protesters. Mr. Davutoğlu will also request a set date for free and fair elections and the release of all political prisoners.

What will happen if Syria rebuffs Turkey's requests today is unclear, but Turkey could be faced with the choice of backpedaling in its demands on Syria or forsaking an alliance that Erdogan has worked hard to nurture, Reuters reports.

"Turkey will have to seriously consider its ties with Syria," [said Bahadir Dincer, Middle East expert at the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara]. "It has been a white page for a decade now, the recent tension turned it grey, and we'll see tomorrow if the relations are entering a red-page era."


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