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Al Assad: Turkey party to bloodshed in Syria

He accuses Erdogan of being two-faced and pursuing sectarian agenda

Gulf News

Ankara Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has made Turkey a party to Syria’s bloodshed by interfering in Damascus’s internal affairs and by giving logistical support to the rebels, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad told a Turkish newspaper.

Al Assad also accused the Turkish leader of being “two-faced” by pursuing a sectarian agenda in the region and trying to persuade Damascus to introduce political reforms while ignoring the killings and democratic shortfalls in Gulf states.

“With his desire from the beginning to interfere in our internal affairs, unfortunately, in the subsequent period he has made Turkey a party to all the bloody acts in Syria,” the Cumhuriyet newspaper quoted Assad as saying.

“Turkey has given all kinds of logistical support to the terrorists killing our people,” Al Assad said in the second part of an interview published on Wednesday.

In the first part published on Tuesday, Al Assad said he wished his forces had not shot down a Turkish jet last month, repeating Syria’s official position that it did not know the plane’s identity when it was brought down.

Speaking to another Turkish newspaper, Vatan, on his way back from Egypt on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed Al Assad’s comments as lies and said he did not believe the Syrian leader had any such regrets.

While the West still largely shunned Syria, Turkey cultivated close ties with its southern neighbour over the past decade. Erdogan even addressed Assad in Damascus as “my brother” and the two were even photographed meeting up during holidays.

But as Syria’s president continued to ignore Turkish calls for restraint in dealing with an uprising against his government and pressed his attacks on protesters, the two leaders fell out and the diplomatic tension took on a personal dimension.

Harsh Criticism

Erdogan has since called for the authoritarian Al Assad – in power since 2000 – to step down and has compared his crackdown on opponents with the practices of Nazi Germany – some of the strongest words of any major leader on Syria.

Turkey now hosts rebels from the Free Syrian Army fighting Assad’s security forces, allowing them to cross over the border freely and giving them logistical support. But Ankara denies it is arming the rebels.

There are also more than 35,000 Syrian refugees living in camps in Turkey along the 900-km-long Syrian border.

Asked about the political reforms Erdogan wanted Damascus to implement, Al Assad said he had already started to introduce changes days after the protests first started and said the Turkish leader was displaying “double standards”.

“If you go and ask Erdogan now, again he will say ‘reform’. However, if he was sincere he would have said the things he is saying now during our meetings in 2004. Now he is talking about all these reforms,” Al Assad told Cumhuriyet.

“There is a double standard here, a two-facedness.”

Al Assad said Erdogan was pursuing a sectarian agenda in the Middle East. Turkey is a majority Sunni secular democracy and the Syrian rebels are also mainly Sunnis while Assad and his power structure are minority Alawites, related to Shiites.

The Syrian president added that the whole Arab world had changed its view of the Turkish prime minister and were questioning his reliability.

“For example, by crying for the Syrian people in a two-faced manner, why isn’t he also crying for those dying in the Gulf countries? Why isn’t he interfering in those countries’ problems with democracy?” Al Assad said.

A third part of the interview will be published in Cumhuriyet on Thursday.