Turkey, US blast Assad regime as Aleppo toll rises

24th February 2013, Comments 0 comments

Turkey and the United States lashed out against the Syrian regime after the death toll from a missile strike on Aleppo rose to 58, while a French photographer wounded in the conflict was confirmed dead on Sunday.

"Every day a large number of innocent children and women fall dead in Syria," Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key backer of Syria's opposition, said on a visit to 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."

Turkey's southern neighbour has been locked in a 23-months-long conflict in which the United Nations estimates over 70,000 people have been killed.

On Sunday alone, according to a toll compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 63 people were killed in violence across the country.

Early in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Turkey broke ties with Damascus and led international calls for his ouster.

Ankara has since backed the uprising against Assad by offering shelter to defectors from Assad's army and hosting opposition meetings, while some 200,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, many of them living in squalid 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 French foreign ministry confirmed that freelance photographer Olivier Voisin, who was seriously wounded in Syria on Thursday, died of his wounds after surgery in Turkey.

Meanwhile the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, updated its death toll from a missile attack on Friday on the northern city of Aleppo, saying it killed at least 58 people, among them 36 children.

Washington on Saturday condemned the Assad regime "in the strongest possible terms" 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.

She 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.

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.

In Paris, a foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed that Voisin, 38, had died, after he suffered head and arm injuries from shrapnel when a shell exploded near the northwest Syrian province of Idlib.

Turkish surgeons has operated on the photographer on Friday in the border city of Antakya.

His pictures have been published in major French and British newspapers and he collaborated with AFP in January, providing about a dozen pictures from Aleppo.

Violence meanwhile raged in several Syrian flashpoints, according to the Observatory.

In northern Syria, rebels closed in on a police academy in the town of Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, 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 large swathes of northern Syria under their control, chiefly Idlib province to the northwest, Raqa and Hasake east of Aleppo.

The army also used tanks to shell the Tariq al-Bab district in eastern Aleppo city, the Observatory said, just two days after dropping three powerful missiles there.

burs-ser/sma


© 2013 AFP

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