Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Monday that his days as leader were numbered and he cannot remain in power indefinitely through military force.
After reports that two buses carrying Turkish pilgrims came under attack in Syria, Erdogan said his one-time ally’s defiant refusal to end a bloody crackdown on protesters had increased the prospects of foreign intervention.
“You can remain in power with tanks and cannons only up to a certain point. The day will come when you’ll also leave,” Erdogan told a meeting in Istanbul.
“Someone shows up and says ‘I’ll fight and die. Against whom will you fight? Will you fight against your Muslim brothers you rule in your country?” said Erdogan.
The prime minister was referring to an interview with Assad published in London’s Sunday Times in which the Syrian leader vowed to fight and die for if faced with foreign intervention.
“Why do you open the way for an outside interference?” asked Erdogan. “Why don’t you handle your own problem within yourself, without opening the way for any outside interference?”
Erdogan also denounced the use of military force “against those in Syria who demand a decent life”.
Turkey has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of Assad’s bloody crackdown on protests against his regime and the tensions will not have been helped by the reports of the attack on the busloads of pilgrims
The “armed attack” occurred between the flashpoint cities of Hama and Homs, Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency reported.
The rivate NTV and CNN-Turk television stations, citing unconfirmed claims, said the attack was carried out by “Syrian soldiers” when the buses took a wrong turn near Homs.
“We confirm that an attack took place in Syria,” a Turkish foreign ministry official told AFP, without giving any further information.
Turkey’s diplomatic missions also came under attack by pro-government demonstrators in several Syrian cities earlier this month after Ankara voiced support for the Arab League’s suspension of Syria.
After the attacks, Turkey demanded a formal apology from Syria, warning its citizens not to travel there unless absolutely necessary.
Turkey last week it announced a halt to joint oil exploration and threatened to cut electricity exports.
It also joined the Arab League at a meeting in Morocco in calling the Assad regime “to stop the bloodshed and to spare Syrian citizens from new acts of violence and killing”.