Publisher: The Telegraph, UK
Author: By Richard Spencer Middle East Correspondent
Story date: 15/11/2011
The Turkish government, which has turned from Assad ally into his fiercest critic in a few short months, said it was suspending joint oil exploration and considering stopping electricity supplies to its neighbour.
For the first time, a senior official openly discussed the possibility of imposing a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to give sanctuary for refugees. That would imply direct military action.
Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, will join counterparts from the Arab League at a summit in Morocco today to discuss further measures after a day of frantic lobbying by the opposition Syrian National Council, eager to capitalise on Mr Assad's isolation.
One human rights group, the Syrian Observatory, called for both a buffer zone and a Libyan-style no-fly zone. "The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights calls on International Community to take its moral and legal responsibilities defined by International Law, and demands an urgent effective action to help the Syrians to get their freedom," a statement said.
Neither Turkey nor the Arab League looks likely to go that far immediately, despite Saturday's decision to suspend Syria's League membership. But Turkish leaders threatened direct action if there were any repeat of the attacks on its consulates in Syria at the weekend.
"Our wish is that the Assad regime, which is now on a knife-edge, does not enter this road of no return, which leads to the edge of the abyss," the prime minister, Recep Tayipp Erdogan, said.
"No regime can survive by killing or jailing. No one can build a future over the blood of the oppressed."
He warned Assad that the brutal crackdown threatens to place him on a list of leaders who "feed on blood".
A foreign policy adviser to the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, seemed to confirm that a buffer zone might only now need approval from other neighbours, which looks more likely following the Arab League vote.
"The protection of civilians is certainly very important," the adviser, ErÅad HÃ¼rmÃ¼zlÃ¼, told a local television station. "But what matters is an international resolution on the issue. It seems out of the question for us to do that on our own." The situation in Syria itself has dramatically worsened since the Arab League suspension. Monday saw what may have been the first major battle between troops and opposition activists and army defectors, in the southern province of Deraa, where the uprising began in March.
Activists said a tank was set on fire, and videos posted online showed what appeared to be an armoured vehicle and cars in flames. Activists said the defectors had staged an ambush in which they killed 34 troops and lost 12 of their own men.
They said another 24 people had died in clashes across the south of the country.
Despite this, there seems little immediate prospect of action at the United Nations. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, rebuffed a delegation led by the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, which had asked him to lift his opposition to further sanctions.
Instead, Mr Lavrov called for the SNC to sit down with Mr Assad.
The SNC is now putting its hopes in the Arab League meeting today(Weds)
which is supposed to discuss the political and economic sanctions specified in Saturday's vote. "We expect an even tougher position," Ausama Monajed, a member, said. He said the SNC supported a buffer zone but acknowledged that it would be complex and dangerous to establish.
The measures announced by Turkey may be more symbolic than effective in the short term. Syria supplies more than its needs in electricity, which it shares it through a grid system with neighbours.
Mr Assad has shown further signs of panic in the face of the unexpected stance taken by his neighbours. His government announced the release of 1,000 prisoners last night, after previously agreeing to admit 500 Arab League-appointed observers.
However, his foreign minister's apologies on Monday for the wave of attacks on Saturday night on Arab and other diplomatic missions were undermined when a fresh mob ransacked the Jordanian embassy in retaliation for King Abdullah's call on Monday for Mr Assad to stand down.
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