Turkey meets Syrian opposition members

AP News
Posted: Oct 18, 2011 11:25 AM
Turkey meets Syrian opposition members

Syrian security forces launched raids on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, on Tuesday to crush a 7-month-old-uprising as neighboring Turkey held its first formal talks with Syrian opposition leaders, activists and officials said.

Tuesday's raids led some parents to keep their children home from school in areas near the capital out of fear for their safety as armored vehicles took up positions and soldiers made sweeping arrests, said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a wide network of sources on the ground.

Other bloodshed was reported in the central city of Homs, a hotbed of opposition to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Syria has banned foreign reporters and restricted local coverage, making it difficult to independently confirm witness accounts. The U.N. says more than 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.

Syria's fragmented opposition has been trying to join forces under the umbrella of a Syrian National Council to form a united front against Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than four decades.

On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he had met members of the council in Ankara late Monday and advised the group to work toward democratic change in Syria "in a peaceful manner."

The meeting was the first formal contact with the opposition group.

"Unfortunately, despite all our urgings the killings are continuing," Davutoglu said. "It is natural for us to meet with all parties."

Davutoglu also condemned the killing of Syrian human rights activist Ziad al-Obeidi during his meeting, said a Turkish foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with ministry regulations.

The Syrian National Council, a broad-based opposition umbrella group, was formed in Istanbul in September. No country has recognized it so far as a legal representative of the country. Syria has threatened tough measures against any country that does.


AP writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report from Beirut.