BEIRUT/ANKARA (Reuters) – Syria’s biggest trade partner Turkey suspended all financial credit dealings with it on Wednesday and froze its government’s assets, joining the Arab League in isolating President Bashar al-Assad over his military crackdown on opponents.
The government of regional transport hub Dubai said airlines based in the United Arab Emirates would stop flying to Syria, part of a decisive break with Assad’s government among countries in the Middle East after eight months of violence.
Syria held military funerals for 14 members of the army and security forces, marking the rising cost of its battle to smother a revolution inspired by uprisings across the Arab world that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year.
Announcing Ankara’s new measures, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference Turkey would block delivery of all weapons and military supplies to Syria. Relations with Syria’s central bank were suspended and a cooperation agreement was halted until there was a new government in place.
“Until a legitimate government which is at peace with its people is in charge in Syria, the mechanism of the High Level of Strategic Cooperation has been suspended,” Davutoglu said, adding Assad’s government had come “to the end of the road”.
Muslim Turkey, which last year had $2.5 billion in bilateral trade with Syria, was once one of Assad’s closest allies, but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan lost patience with him. Turkey now hosts Syrian army defectors and an umbrella opposition group.
Ankara has said any sanctions would not hurt the Syrian people and has ruled out cutting off electricity and water supplies. It has also said civil aviation by Turkish Airlines to Damascus will continue.
Dubai said UAE carriers would stop flying to Syria next week. The UAE’s Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad are two of the region’s biggest airlines.
Turkey, a NATO member, has a 900 km long border with Syria. It said on Tuesday it did not want military intervention in Syria but was ready for any scenario, including setting up a buffer zone to contain any mass influx of refugees.
FLOWERS AND WREATHS
Syria, which does not allow access to most foreign journalists, says it is fighting an insurgency by armed groups supported from abroad, who have attacked its troops trying to defend the peace.
Fourteen members of the security forces were laid to rest “with flowers and wreaths”, official news agency SANA said. It named the dead but did not say when they were killed.
“The martyrs were targeted by armed terrorist groups while they were in the line of duty in Homs and the Damascus countryside,” it said on Tuesday.
European and Arab diplomats say the top United Nations human rights forum will paint a far different picture of events in Syria at a special session on Friday, which is likely to condemn the Syrian government for crimes against humanity.
A U.N. report this week said Syrian forces have committed murder, torture and rape against pro-democracy protesters. The U.N. says more than 3,500 people have been killed since March.
Friday’s human rights committee session is partly designed to put pressure on China and Russia, which have blocked measures by the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria, to take a stronger stand, say diplomats.
Moscow has so far shown little sign of abandoning Assad.
“For the most part, armed groups are provoking the authorities,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Outside powers should “stop issuing ultimatums”.
The United States and the European Union demand an end to Syrian state “brutality” and want Assad to relinquish power.
What began 8 months ago as a one-sided crushing of unarmed street protests is now sliding towards civil war.
Rebels on Tuesday ambushed an army vehicle in a northern town, killing three soldiers, said a statement from the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, an activist group.
“The security forces vehicle was targeted … by a group of suspected army defectors,” it said.
Government forces later killed a civilian and wounded three others in raids in the same town, it said. In a district of Homs, an 8-year-old girl was shot dead at a checkpoint.
Two civilians died of their wounds in the area of Rinkous outside Damascus on Tuesday and a 33-year-old man was killed by sniper fire as he tried to escape arrest, the Observatory said.
Terrified families were too scared to bury their dead.
Turkey said it feared there could be an exodus of Syrians if the violence got worse, and that border states might have to create a buffer zone to cope with masses of refugees fleeing to Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon.
France has raised the idea of a secured humanitarian corridor to relieve civilians, a step which would appear to imply some use of armed forces for security and logistics.