Activists say the Syrian army has stormed a northwestern town near Turkey's border, a day after authorities declared the military pulled out of the region.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops stormed Saraqeb early Thursday, detaining at least 100 people. The Local Coordination Committees, activists who help organize and document the protests, said explosions and gunfire were heard after the army stormed the area.
Idlib province, in which Saraqeb sits, has witnessed intense protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Rights group say a government crackdown has left more than 1,700 civilians dead since mid-March. Authorities said Wednesday that the army had withdrawn to their barracks from residential areas in the province.
Turkish Ambassador to Syria Reports No Tanks in Hama
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu telephoned his foreign ambassador in Damascus, Omer Onhon, asked him whether Syrian tanks entered the Hama city of Syria, as it had been alleged. Onhon held several talks and informed Davutoglu that those allegations were not true. Onhon and journalists who entered the city said that the situation was calm in Hama.
Troops Do Not Listen To Me, Al-Assad Says
During his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad confessed that he could not control his army. Al-Assad said the army did not listen to him, stating that the Syrian administration made some mistakes when it was trying to control the process.
Erdogan, Obama Discuss Syria, Africa in Telephone Call
In a phone call Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed Syria and Africa, officials said.
"The two leaders underlined the urgency of the situation in Syria, expressing deep concern over the Syrian government's use of violence on civilians, as well as affirmed the importance of the need to meet legitimate expectations of the Syrian people for the transition to democracy," said a statement released by the Turkish premier's press office.
The statement also said the two leaders had called for an immediate halt of bloodshed and violence against the civilians.
"The two sides have agreed to monitor closely steps to be taken by the Syrian government and to continue consultations," the statement said.
Erdogan and Obama also discussed the famine in Africa, officials reported, saying, "they have agreed to cooperate closely to fight the tragic drought in the Horn of Africa and to boost relief and aid efforts to save lives in the region."
Turkey Monitoring Syria, Change Will Take Time, Davutoglu Says
Amid claims that Damascus has launched new attacks since he delivered a stern warning earlier this week, Turkey said it is closely monitoring the situation, but change may take time, said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
"It is difficult to expect an immediate pull-back under such conditions, especially when tensions have escalated so much," Davutoglu, who met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, told reporters.
Asked to comment on allegations that Syria had launched new military operations in some residential areas close to the Turkish border following his visit, Davutoglu said they had not received any news regarding an operation near the border.
"We expect urgent measures to prevent loss of lives, and to end operations, especially in Hama and Deyr'uz Zur," he said. Emphasizing the need to open Syrian cities to international news agencies, Davutoglu said it is difficult to assess the reliability of the news as long as these cities remain largely closed to journalists.
"I am a close follower [of the issue]. We hope Muslims in all Syrian cities will have a calm day of Ramadan tomorrow. That is all we want. We'll monitor it very closely," Davutoglu said.
Responding to claims that tanks had entered the Syrian city of Hama again Wednesday night, the foreign minister said Turkey had not yet received any official information about that.
"We received this information late at night Wednesday. I immediately telephoned Turkish Ambassador Omer Onhon. I was also planning to call my counterpart [in Damascus] if needed. We talked to the governor of Hama. He said there were no tanks or heavy weapons in Hama," Davutoglu said.
Davutoglu said he also spoke to the executive of the TV channel that broadcast that news to ask if there was any photograph or video footage of the alleged events, adding that the news reports were mostly based on witnesses' claims.
"A delegation of journalists is currently in Syria. It is important that those cities are open to international media," Davutoglu said.
Turkey's Foreign Policy in Tatters, Kilicdaroglu Says
Turkey's main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, hit out at the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, saying that the government has performed badly in both of its top foreign policy priorities
Turkey's ruling AKP has failed in both of its top foreign policy priorities -- "Zero problems with neighbors" and membership talks with the European Union -- Kılıçdaroğlu said:
"The AKP's foreign policy pillars were zero problems with neighbors and the European Union. Today, we have problems with all of our neighbors and relations with the European Union have frozen," Kılıçdaroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.
The leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, fired broadside at the government's policy on Syria, charging that Turkey has become "over-engaged" and a "tool" of Western powers while seeking to improve ties with the United States over concerns that Ankara is sliding away from the West.
Recalling that the government threatened the EU that it would freeze ties if Greek Cyprus takes over the bloc's term presidency in the second half of 2012, Kılıçdaroğlu said: "What's left to freeze? Relations were already frozen. The government's statement worked only for the advantage of some anti-Turkey EU countries. It strengthened their hands."
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu;s talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus were a "very wrong" move, Kılıçdaroğlu said, accusing the AKP of using foreign policy issues for domestic consumption.
"It's obvious that Assad is listening to nobody. He pretends to be listening. The Middle East is a quagmire. Middle East policies cannot be carried out with street talk, with objectives aimed at domestic policy," he said.
Opposition Left Uninformed
Kılıdçaroğlu also accused the government of not informing the political parties about the foreign policy issues. "They inform the U.S. and others. They hear advice from Western powers, but they do not seek support from us," he said.
Kılıçdaroğlu stressed that human right abuses in the Middle East should be monitored and condemned, but charged that the AKP had ignored the autocratic rule in Syria until recently, as it moved to improve ties with Damascus.
"They went there for a joint Cabinet meeting, lifted visa restrictions and began construction of a joint dam. The prime minister was greeted with a big applause when he walked in the streets of Damascus," Kilicdaroglu said. "Why didn't they speak of human rights violations at the time? The Western powers now want to punish Syria. And using whom?" he asked, alluding to Turkey.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's warning that Turkey's patience with al-Assad was running out is reminiscent of "words uttered before a war," Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that such outbursts could deal "a heavy blow" on Turkey's image in the region.
"No doubt, they are trying to mend ties with the U.S. after discussions about Turkey's change in axis. Now, Syria's engagement of Turkey seems to be a tool for this purpose." Davutoğlu, he said, "went to Libya and took part in an opposition demonstration. What if a Western diplomat joins a demonstration in Diyarbakır one day?"
Main Opposition Party to Shuffle Top Executive Board
Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, is set to remove a number of senior party figures from a top decision-making body. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is expected to replace 10 members of the 17-seat party's Central Executive Board.
Pakistan FM a 'Great Chance' to Improve Islam Image, Davutoglu Says
Pakistan's new female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, represents a "great chance" to improve the global image of Islam, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday.
"The mere presence of the foreign minister and the attitude that she has displayed so far is in itself a message to the world. She is a great chance for us all," Davutoğlu said after talks with Khar, who was wrapping up a two-day visit to Turkey.
"I am confident that her elegance and dignified standing will boost the image not only of Pakistan, but also of Asia and the Islamic world," he said. "She will be a strong voice of the Islamic community in the world."
Stressing that she had a single message as a foreign minister and a woman, Khar said: "We want to be able to live in peace with our neighbors, and the only way to solve problems is to be able to engage with each other in a way that will enable us to build trust and, therefore, have the confidence to eventually conduct real dispute resolution."
Davutoglu said he and Khar discussed ways to improve cooperation and double bilateral trade to $2 billion in 2012.
Khar's visit to Turkey was her second foreign trip after a much-publicized visit to India following her appointment last month.
'Turkey is a Model Country,' Pakistan Foreign Minister Says
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who paid a visit to Ankara, said that priority must be given to education and the elimination of poverty in the fight against radical Islam. Khar said that they wanted to benefit from Turkey's experiences.
"Turkey is a successful model in reforming religious schools," she said.
Turkish Workers in Israel Not Granted Visa Renewal
Turkish workers in Israel are not able to renew their visa due to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's negative view of Turkey.
The workers of Turkish Yilmazlar Construction Company, established in Kafr Qasim town near the Green Line dividing Israel and West Bank, could not renew their visa for six months.
Lieberman is against the renewal of their visa and is contradicting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on this issue.
Yilmazlar has been operating in the construction sector in Israel for more than 15 years and has recently become the biggest company in its sector. The company previously had 800 workers, but it dropped to 200 because some of the workers, who could not have their visa renewed, had to return to Turkey.
One of the workers staying in Israel said that if the Israeli state had renewed their visa, they could have been in Turkey for the holy Ramadan month.
The workers wanted a solution to their problem, noting that the only reason for the problem was the Israeli foreign minister's negative stance against Turkey.
Turkish Finance Minister Speaks on Global Economic Crisis
Turkey's Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Thursday that, "if there is a problem in the United States and Europe at the moment, this is because they did not take a country like Turkey as model."
In an interview aired on the TGRT News Channel, Simsek said Europe and the United States should give importance to growth policy.
"You can not get rid of debt crisis without growth. Growth is the only thing that the United States and Europe need. You can not over the crisis by cutting the expenses and making the citizens pay the bill," Simsek said.
Underlining that developments outside had impacts on Turkey, Simsek said: " Turkey stands on a firm ground and a lasting destruction will not be experienced."
Referring to the current account deficit as "Turkey's fragility canal," Simsek said measures had been taken to overcome the current deficit, noting the possibility of a decrease in the deficit over the next six months.
Simsek said there was not loss of confidence in Turkey, saying, rather, that there was a political stability in Turkey. He also said Turkey gained credibility with its medium-term program and medium-term financial plan.
"When we consider the United States, we see that there is not a problem with the balance sheets of the companies. However, growth is low in those countries. Unemployment is high for a long time and does not drop as desired," Simsek said. "Because the companies refrain from making new investments, the banks do not give loans to small and medium-scale enterprises, which creates employment. Companies are cash profiteers. The state used most of its instruments before. The interest rate is already zero, they have already issued money and rate of debt to national income is very high," he said.
Simsek said Turkey's macro economic ground was solid in the general sense, underlining that there was a surplus in the budget in the first six months of the year, despite the elections. Simsek said implementation of the reforms ensured solution of problems in economy.
The finance minister said Turkey made most of its exports to Europe, adding that Turkey was an outward-oriented economy.
"If there is storm outside, a serious crisis, then it has impacts on Turkey," he said. "The most important factor discriminating Turkey from the developed countries is the presence of a strong government and political stability. If not so, there may be concerns against Turkey,"
Referring to measures in the economy, Simsek said: "Financial discipline will be maintained. Investment environment will be bettered. The fight will continue against unregistered economy. Dependence for foreign countries in energy will be reduced. Efforts will be underway to make Istanbul a finance center."
Money Flows Into Turkey from Unknown Sources
An inflow of money from unknown sources into Turkey reached $9.8 billion in the first six months of this year. The highest amount of inflow was in May with $4.5 billion. The amount of money with unknown sources was $56 million in the first six months of last year.
Coup Suspects 'Protected' by Top General, Celik Says
Former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ "protected" suspects in an alleged military plan targeting the ruling government, Deputy Prime Minister Hüseyin Çelik claimed in critical comments Thursday.
"The Turkish Armed Forces is a 1 million strong community, from its chief of General Staff to the soldiers, and among them there may be some 1,000 people who seek to stage a coup. But you put the institution under suspicion if you institutionally protect these people," Çelik told CNNTürk on Thursday, referring to Gen. Başbuğ, who headed the military when the alleged "Internet Memorandum" was prepared.
The ongoing Internet Memorandum case refers to an alleged document by the General Staff about setting up 42 Internet sites to distribute propaganda against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and Greeks and Armenians.
"Did he [Başbuğ] do what was necessary? [I wish] he had handed over those people, even when they were in active service to the military judiciary. You know the memorandum was prepared within the chain of command in the army. If this is true, this means it was prepared with the initiative of the top figure in the military," Çelik said.
According to the deputy prime minister, Başbuğ characterized weapons unearthed in the probe as pipes and called the memorandum with signatures on it a "piece of paper" in a press conference, while indicating that those who engage in anti-democratic approaches can't remain in the army.
"The Internet Memorandum is one of the most interesting incidents in Turkish history. It is hard to swallow," Çelik told CNNTürk. "I don't want to accuse anybody. The judicial process continues," he added. "I hope it will reveal who is right and who is wrong and the public conscience is relieved."