Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday vowed his country will not remain silent over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s “crimes”, as Washington condemned a missile strike on Aleppo that left 58 dead.
“Every day a large number of innocent children and women fall dead in Syria,” Erdogan, a key backer of Syria’s opposition, said in a speech in the United Arab Emirates.
“We will not remain silent on those committing crimes against their people… We will not remain silent on the brutal dictator in Syria,” Erdogan added.
Turkey’s southern neighbour Syria has been locked in a 23-months-long conflict in which the United Nations estimates over 70,000 people have been killed.
Early in the revolt against Assad’s regime, Turkey broke ties with Damascus and led international calls for his ouster.
Turkey has since backed the uprising against Assad by offering shelter to defectors from Assad’s army and hosting opposition meetings. Some 200,000 Syrian refugees have fled the conflict in their country for Turkey, many of them living in insalubrious camps.
On February 15, Assad’s government sent a letter to the United Nations blasting Turkey’s “destructive” role in the Syrian conflict.
Damascus has systematically blamed foreign powers, key among them Turkey, the West and Gulf countries, for the war in Syria.
Erdogan’s statement came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, updated its death toll from a powerful missile attack on Friday on the northern city of Aleppo, saying it killed at least 58 people, among them 36 children.
Washington condemned on Saturday “in the strongest possible terms” Assad’s regime for the strike, which activists say was carried out using surface-to-surface missiles.
The army’s deadly missile strikes were “the latest demonstrations of the Syrian regime’s ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent”, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Nuland repeated Washington’s call for Assad to step down. “The Assad regime has no legitimacy and remains in power only through brute force,” Nuland said.
She added: “The United States sees no indication that the brave Syrian people fighting against this aggression will accept these regime leaders, with the blood of so many Syrians on their hands, as part of a transition governing authority.”
The comments from Washington came after a statement from the main opposition Syrian National Coalition announcing a boycott of talks with world powers.
Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said the group’s withdrawal from meetings abroad was “a message of protest to all governments of the world” who were merely looking on as the Syrian people were being killed.
The opposition had earlier announced plans to form a government in rebel-held zones, as part of a bid to fill a security vacuum in areas where Islamists have the upper hand as well as to bolster its credibility.
“The opposition wants to establish a presence which may well give them more credibility than they currently have,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre.
“Right now, they don’t have much credibility and they certainly don’t have much presence. In both cases, it (a government) is to their advantage,” he added.
On the ground, violence raged in several flashpoints of the strife-torn country on Sunday, a day after at least 110 people were killed, according to the Observatory.
In northern Syria, rebels closed in on a police academy in the town of Khan al-Assal in the province of Aleppo, as warplanes bombarded their positions there, the watchdog said.
“Should they take the academy building, the whole of northern Aleppo province will fall out of regime control,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The rebels already have under their control large swathes of northern Syria, chiefly in Idlib province to the northwest, and Raqa and Hasake east of Aleppo.