Turkey to unveil Syria sanctions as Assad continues protest crackdown
Recep Tayyip Erdogan says will announce sanctions 'road map' after visit to refugee camps in Hatay, plans military exercise in the province; highest-ranking Syria army defector takes refuge in Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would set out his country's plans for sanctions against Syria after he visits a Syrian refugee camp near the border in the coming days, stepping up pressure on President Bashar Assad.
The move heralds a further deterioration in previously friendly relations between Ankara and Damascus since the start of Assad's crackdown on protesters.
"Regarding sanctions, we will make an assessment and announce our road map after the visit to Hatay in southern Turkey, setting out the steps," Erdogan told reporters, adding he expected to visit the region at the weekend or the start of next week.
Some 7,000 Syrians have taken refuge in camps established in Hatay, in flight from President Assad's security forces.
Colonel Riad Asaad, the highest-ranking officer to defect from the Syrian military said on Tuesday he had taken refuge in Turkey, denying claims that he had been arrested when Syrian government troops overran a rebel stronghold, state-run Anatolian news agency said.
"We live in a safe place in Turkey, I am grateful to the government and people of Turkey. Turkish officials cared about us," the Colonel said in a report datelined Hatay.
Meanwhile, Turkey announced that its military will conduct an exercise in Hatay.
The Oct. 5-13 "mobilization" exercise, announced on the military's website on Tuesday, may coincide with a visit that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is expected to make to refugee camps in the area after he returns from South Africa this week.
The army said the exercise would involve the 39th mechanized infantry brigade and 730 reserve soldiers.
Turkey's once-close relations with Syria have soured as Erdogan has fiercely criticized Assad's crackdown on protesters, urging him to end the bloodshed and enact reforms.
Syria has a longstanding territorial claim to the Hatay province, but had put this on the back burner in recent years, when Erdogan and Assad cultivated close ties.
Erdogan said last month that Assad would be ousted by his people "sooner or later" and warned that Syria could slide into a sectarian civil war between Alawites and Sunnis.
Most Syrians, like most Turks, are Sunni Muslims, while Assad is from the minority Alawite Muslim sect.
At least 2,700 have been killed in the crackdown in Syria, according to a UN count. Demonstrators have begun to demand some form of international protection that stops short of Libya-style Western military intervention.