- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BEIRUT — Turkey’s prime minister compared Syria’s president to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday, as Damascus defied international calls to end the crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising.

President Bashar Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops and snipers in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in August, killing hundreds and detaining thousands.

“We made our calls (to Gadhafi) but unfortunately we got no result,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. “The same thing is happening with Syria at the moment.”

The conflict in Libya, which began a month before Syria’s unrest, has descended into a civil war as Gadhafi defies calls to end the bloodshed.

On Wednesday, Erdogan said he personally spoke to Assad and sent his foreign minister to Damascus, but “despite all of this, they are continuing to strike civilians.”

In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, Syrian soldiers atop armored personnel carrier cheer on their way out of the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, Syria, on Aug. 16, 2011. (Associated Press)
In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, Syrian soldiers atop armored ... more >

Turkey, a neighbor and former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus’ crackdown. But Turkey, Syria’s most important trade partner, has not joined the U.S. and Europe in imposing sanctions.

With tension rising, the U.N. said it has temporarily withdrawn about two dozen “nonessential” international staff from Syria because of security concerns. U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq also said some family members of U.N. staff have been relocated to other countries.

The government insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out terrorists fomenting unrest in the country. In comments carried on the state-run news agency, Assad appeared to lash out at the international reproach, saying his country will not give up its “dignity and sovereignty.”

Human rights groups and witnesses accuse Syrian troops of firing on largely unarmed protesters and say more than 1,800 civilians have been killed since mid-March.

In Latakia, a Mediterranean port city that has been subjected to a four-day military assault, security centers were overflowing with detainees Wednesday, forcing authorities to hold hundreds of other prisoners in the city’s main football stadium and a movie theater, said Rami Abdul-Raham, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Detentions centers are packed,” he said.

A woman in Latakia died of her wounds Wednesday, two days after she was injured, according to the observatory and The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group. The LCC said a man was killed in the city late Tuesday.

In the northwestern Idlib province, a bullet killed a man as he stood on his balcony, according to observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of people on the ground. Troops were carrying out raids in the area at the time.

The regime’s recent military operations have also targeted the central city of Homs, where security forces shot dead one person and wounded three during raids Wednesday, according to the observatory.

In Damascus, the regime focused its raids on the predominantly Kurdish neighborhood of Rukneddine, where security forces detained dozens after cutting electricity in the area, the observatory said. The neighborhood has witnessed intense anti-regime protests in the past weeks.

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