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Briefly: Middle East

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TURKEY

Erdogan tells Assad not to 'feed on blood'

ANKARA — Turkey no longer has confidence in the Syrian regime, its prime minister said Tuesday, warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that his brutal crackdown on opponents threatens to place him on a list of leaders who "feed on blood."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also urged Mr. Assad to punish those responsible for attacks on Turkish diplomatic missions in Syria.

Addressing Mr. Assad disrespectfully by his first name, Mr. Erdogan said: "Bashar, you who have thousands of people in jail, must find those who attacked the Turkish flag and punish them," a reference to burning of the Turkish flag in Saturday's attack on the Turkish consulate in the Syrian city of Latakia.

Mr. Assad's supporters tried to break into Turkish missions on Saturday to denounce an Arab League decision to suspend Syria's membership over its crackdown on the eight-month uprising.

Turkey is not a member of the league but welcomed the decision.

Mr. Erdogan took pains to note that his comments were politically neutral.

"It is not among our expectations that the Assad regime meet all the demands of the [Syrian] people," Mr. Erdogan said. "Our wish is that it, which is now on a knife-edge, does not enter this road of no return, which leads to the edge of the abyss."

Turkey evacuated the families of diplomats after Saturday's attacks on its embassy in Damascus and its consulates in the cities of Aleppo and Latakia.

ISRAEL

Military chief favors Gaza Strip offensive

JERUSALEM — Israeli media reported that the nation's top military commander has said he favors a major offensive in Gaza because of rocket attacks.

The reports Tuesday said Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told a parliamentary committee about the need to "embark on a significant offensive in Gaza."

The reports quoted participants in the committee meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was closed.

Gen. Gantz said an Israeli airstrike that killed five militants in Gaza in late October set back the Islamic Jihad militant group's rocket operations. That came during a sudden spike in rocket attacks that disrupted life in Israel's south.

The military chief said, "We cannot keep having round after round [of violence] in Gaza."

Israel went to war in Gaza in late 2008 following years of rocket fire.

SYRIA

Soldiers killed in clash with defectors

BEIRUT — Dozens of soldiers and security forces were gunned down by suspected army defectors in southern Syria, a deadly ambush that occurred as President Bashar Assad increasingly appears unable to manage the crisis, activists said Tuesday.

Monday's hours-long clash in the southern province of Daraa came on a particularly bloody day in Syria, with as many as 90 people killed across the country.

The brazen attack by the army defectors suggested a new confidence among troops who have sided with the protesters and highlighted the potential for an armed confrontation to escalate.

The U.N. estimates the regime's military crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising has killed 3,500 people in the past eight months. November is shaping up to be the bloodiest month of the revolt, with many more than 300 people killed so far.

The latest death toll was compiled by sources including the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Local Coordination Committees activist coalition and morgue officials.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the human rights observatory, confirmed that 34 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Daraa, the birthplace of the uprising that began in mid-March, inspired by successful revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and later Libya.

ISRAEL

Lawmakers push contentious bills

JERUSALEM — At the end of a stormy debate, Israeli lawmakers pushed ahead two bills that critics say would threaten the independence of the country's Supreme Court, just days after Cabinet ministers advanced another proposal to sharply limit funding for dovish groups.

Opponents say both developments reflect attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to stifle dissent and pluralism.

Mr. Netanyahu himself was absent from Monday's parliament vote, which dominated newspaper headlines and radio talk shows.

A government spokesman on Tuesday said Mr. Netanyahu was absent because of a mourning ritual for his recently deceased father-in-law.

Commentators, however, questioned whether he was trying to avoid criticism over the measures, which have caused a furor not only among government opponents but within Mr. Netanyahu's coalition as well.

One of the two bills would change the way the top court's judges are selected; the other would change the rules for becoming chief justice.

Both proposals, which require further votes in parliament to become law, would let officials influence who joins the court next.

Critics of the Supreme Court say it is too activist and biased and usurps the legislature's power.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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