Turkish PM meets Syria's Assad, calls immediate end to Gaza violence

Turkish PM meets Syrias Assad, calls immediate end to Gaza violence

The unacceptable status quo in Gaza must end immediately, Turkish prime minister told reporters on Wednesday in Damascus where he met the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss the Israeli offensive. Turkish president telephoned his Israeli counterpart regarding the Gaza crisis. (UPDATED)

"I have come to Damascus to evaluate what we can do together as the regional countries," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said.

"Turkey has taken a very positive stance on the region again. This is not the first time that Turkey has taken a stance. Turkey displayed a stance in 2003 on Iraq. Today, Turkey has taken a stance on Gaza," Assad was quoted by Anatolian Agency as saying.

He said Erdogan's visit to Damascus will have a great impact on Turkey's regional role, adding both countries must share their policies on Gaza just as they do with their feelings.

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"The developments in the Gaza Strip are extremely dangerous for regional peace and in humanitarian terms, and therefore we cannot remain silent," Turkish Prime Tayyip Erdogan told a press conference in Ankara ahead of his departure for Syria.

 

"We are concerned that the Middle East will become engaged in a spiral of violence. The aim of this tour, which begins today, is to bring about an end to these dangerous goings on," he added.

 

Earlier media reports suggested he would also meet Khaled Meshaal, the exiled Hamas leader living in Damascus. But Erdogan denied such a meeting was scheduled.

Erdogan will proceed to Jordan later on Wednesday to meet King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas of al Fatah in Jordan to discuss the Israeli attacks and other issues at the Red Sea city of Aqabaon.

 

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from rival Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.    

 

EGYPT AND S. ARABIA VISITS

The Turkish prime minister will return to Turkey on Wednesday following his meetings in Jordan. On Thursday he will have talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh and on Saturday will be in Saudia Arabia to meet King Abdullah.

 

Erdogan said he has no meetings planned with Israeli officials, adding he would hold meetings with Western countries after his Middle East tour.

 

Erdogan, whose country had mediated indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria before Damascus suspended them this week, criticised Israel for being "disrespectful" towards Turkish peace efforts. "We have fought for peace and our concern will continue to be for peace," he said.

 

Countries in the region had stepped in to reduce the tension which escalated after Israel carried out air operations against Gaza.

 

Earlier this week Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit paid a visit to Turkey to discuss the recent situation. Turkey, Egypt and several other regional governments are also pursuing their own initiative calling for a ceasefire and reopening of Gaza's crossings with Israel.

 

An Egyptian-Turkish peace plan would call for an immediate halt to the Israeli assault, a return to a long-term Hamas-Israel truce and international guarantees to keep border crossings into Gaza open.

 

Israeli officials warned that the onslaught could continue for weeks, as air strikes and artillery strikes continued into a fifth day Wednesday.

 

At least 25 percent of Palestinians killed during Israel’s massive offensive in the Gaza Strip have been civilians, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said.

 

Since the start of the Israeli offensive on Saturday at least 390 Palestinians have been killed and another 1,900 wounded, according to Gaza medics. At least 42 of those killed have been children, they say. Four Israelis have been killed.

 

GUL CALLS PERES
Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday spoke to his Israeli counterpart by phone regarding the deadly Gaza attacks, his office said in a written statement.

Gul called Israeli President Shimon Peres, and discussed the recent developments in Gaza, it said.

"President Gul expressed Turkey's concern over political and humanitarian developments in the region," Anatolian Agency quoted the statement as saying.

Gul also called on the concerned parties to reach a cease-fire as soon as possible and underlined importance of uninterrupted dispatch of humanitarian aid to the region, the statement added.

ISRAEL REBUFFS TRUCE CALLS
Israel on Wednesday said the time was not right for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and stepped up preparations for a possible ground offensive after Hamas's long-range rockets hit another major population center.

"If conditions will ripen and we think there will be a diplomatic solution that will ensure a better security reality in the south, we will consider it. But at the moment, it's not there," an aide quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying.

"We didn't start this operation just to end it with rocket fire continuing as it did before it began," Olmert said, according to the aide. "Imagine if we declare a unilateral ceasefire and a few days later rockets fall on (the town of) Ashkelon. What will that do to Israel's deterrence?" Reuters quoted him as saying.

Israel earlier on Wednesday described as unrealistic a French proposal for a 48-hour truce that would allow more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

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