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Turkish envoy, Syrian leader meet amid uproar over violence

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Syria continues multi-front offensive
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 34 deaths reported Tuesday; overall death toll tops 2,300, rights group says
  • Turkish foreign minister, Syrian president engaged in more than six hours of talks in Damascus
  • U.N. Security Council to meet Wednesday
  • Envoys from India, Brazil and South Africa to visit Syria

(CNN) -- Turkey's top diplomat and Syria's president held a "friendly and frank" sit-down Tuesday to help end the violence embroiling Syria and jump-start reforms.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, President Bashar al-Assad and their delegations engaged in more than six hours of talks in the capital of Damascus in what it is the latest diplomatic initiative to grapple with the five-month crisis in Syria.

Security forces have undertaken a brutal and bloody crackdown against peaceful demonstrators, leaving more than 2,300 people dead, the vast majority of whom are civilians, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an activist group.

The unrest was fueled five months ago when Syrian forces swiftly suppressed protests in the southern city of Daraa. Anti-government fervor caught on nationwide as more protests were met with tougher crackdowns.

While activists blame government security forces for the violence and casualties, the al-Assad regime has consistently said "armed groups" are responsible.

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The discussions ended amid more violence and arrests in various flashpoint regions, where reports emerged of at least 34 people dead -- 17 in Deir Ezzor in the east, six in Hama province in the west, five in Idlib province in the northwest, three in Homs province in the west, two in Damascus province in the south and one in Latakia province on the coast.

"Our primary target is the bloodshed to stop. Syria's people from all backgrounds will determine the future of Syria," Davutoglu told reporters after the meetings.

"We shared what needs to be done for the bloodshed to stop, for the civilian losses to end and for the political reform process, in line with the people's demands, to take place."

"We discussed concrete issues that would not be right for me to give details of," Davutoglu said. "We discussed steps to be taken, especially to prevent the army and the people standing against each other and to prevent tensions like in Hama."

Davutoglu passed along a written statement to al-Assad from Turkish President Abdullah Gul and a verbal message from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Asked whether he had passed any messages from the United States to the Syrian president, Davutoglu said: "Let me say this clearly: We only conveyed Turkey's messages."

Asked if his concerns are over, Davutoglu said that "it depends on the steps that will be taken in the coming days."

"I don't want to create an expectation either way, but we will see what will happen in the coming days. I am not saying in the coming months, but in the coming days."

Al-Assad told Davutoglu that his country won't relent in chasing down the "armed terrorist groups" it blames for the violence that has engulfed the Arab nation, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Al-Assad briefed Davutoglu on the killing and terrorizing in some Syrian cities by the groups. At the same time, he indicated that Syria is committed to reform and is open to help from other countries, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

The Turkish diplomat is one of many in an international chorus decrying and working to end the government's much-reviled crackdown on peaceful protesters.

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His visit is part of a diplomatic push to deal with Syria, where violence has outraged many world powers that believe the violence there is spiraling out of control because of the government's tough security clampdown.

Indian, South African and Brazilian envoys are planning to meet with Syrian officials to deal with the crisis.

The United States and other Western powers have bluntly upbraided al-Assad's regime.

The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have publicly spoken out against the crackdown. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah condemned violence in Syria in a rare rebuke directed at a fellow Arab leader, who leads a majority Sunni Muslim nation with a government dominated by minority Alawites, whose faith is a spinoff of Shiite Islam. He demanded an end "to the killing machine and the bloodshed."

"There is no justification for the bloodshed in Syria, and what is happening has nothing to do with religion or ethics," Abdullah said in remarks broadcast on state television Monday. "The Syrian leadership could activate comprehensive reforms quickly."

Russia on Tuesday called on the Syrian government "to stop the violence and to introduce deep political changes," the Russian Foreign Ministry reported on its website.

Turkey, which has had close relations with neighboring Syria, has registered its objections to the government's crackdown as well.

Amnesty International on Tuesday urged world leaders to take more concrete action on the issue ahead of a Wednesday Security Council debate at which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to deliver a report on Syria.

The Security Council's action last week -- a presidential statement condemning Syria's harsh measures -- was seen by many groups and countries as ineffectual.

"Any honest examination of the facts of the horrific situation in Syria should be more than sufficient to persuade the Security Council to come up with a legally binding resolution, not just a meek statement. A mere diplomatic appeal to the Syrian authorities to end the ongoing violence against civilians will fall far short of what the situation demands," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Heavy gunfire broke out across Syria on Tuesday, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said at least 34 people were killed.

In Deir Ezzor, security forces arbitrarily arrested residents amid heavy shooting in the area, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the observatory, said tanks were deploying in different parts of the city. An activist told him 15 bodies were seen lying on the streets and could not be recovered because of the army deployment. The activist also said two other people died of wounds Tuesday morning.

Despite the Syrian government's claim that the military was leaving Hama, witnesses and activists said forces remained in some neighborhoods and nearby villages Tuesday. Two activists said the humanitarian situation is getting worse, as pharmacies, bakeries and grocery stores have been forced to close amid the havoc.

Abdul-Rahman said six people were killed in the towns of Halfaya and Taybet Al Imam in Hama province during military operations. At least three of the dead were children.

Despite the Syrian government's claim that the military was leaving Hama, witnesses and activists said forces remained in some neighborhoods and nearby villages Tuesday.

Abdul-Rahman said a 13-year-old boy and a 30-year-old woman were among those killed in Binnish in Idlib province. Five people died in the province.

In the Homs province village of Al Houla, two residents were reportedly killed by pro-regime thugs who fired at them and escaped, and a 35-year-old man died under torture after being detained a week ago near his house. His family was notified of his death Tuesday.

Two people died in Damascus province.

One person was killed by security gunfire in the Latakia neighborhood of Sakantouri. Two people were injured, one in the hand while trying to film a security raid to dismantle barricades erected by citizens.

Syria has restricted international journalists' access to the country, and CNN was unable to independently confirm the death toll and details of the situation.

CNN's Amir Ahmed, Arwa Damon, Nada Husseini and Yesim Comert contributed to this report.

 
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