The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has urged his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, to reform or leave office – the first time the allies have publicly diverged during Syria‘s six-month uprising.
The surprise statement, reported by Russian news agencies, came as Turkey – a former ally of Damascus – said again that it would consider all options in dealing with the ongoing violence in Syria.
When pressed on what those options were, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, conceded that military measures would be considered if the situation threatened his country’s security.
“Every domestic crisis in Syria will affect Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. It affects the whole region,” he said. “In this regard, there is no other country more important than Syria today. So, when an internal conflict in Syria poses a risk to Turkey, we will take all necessary measures.”
Turkey has been weighing a response to the Syrian crisis, which its leaders now say is being caused by a regime crackdown on protesters, some of whom have taken up arms.
Ankara has said it will impose a range of cultural and economic sanctions on Assad’s regime, which insists it is battling terrorists backed by foreign states.
The latest Russian intervention has added to mounting pressure on the Syrian leader.
Earlier this week Moscow helped to veto a US-led resolution before the UN security council, which had threatened further sanctions on Damascus.
Furious lobbying by the US, Britain and Syrian opposition figures appeared to have done little to sway Russia, which has maintained a strategic relationship with the Ba’athist state since the cold war.
“If the Syrian leadership is incapable of conducting such reforms, it will have to go,” Medvedev was reported to have said. “But this decision should be taken not in Nato or certain European countries. It should be taken by the Syrian people and the Syrian leadership.”
Meanwhile, activists claimed 21 people were killed across Syria on Friday.
Protesters in Homms said Syrian security forces were targeting mosques in an attempt to stop public gatherings from forming. Friday prayers have acted as a lightning rod for anti-regime dissent for the past six months and there were clashes on most Fridays throughout the summer.
A Kurdish leader and member of the newly formed Syrian National Council, which sees itself as an alternative government to the Assad regime, was reportedly shot dead by security forces in the northern town of Qaboun.
Mesha’al Timmo, the spokesperson for the Kurdish Future party, was meeting activists inside a private home when armed men burst in and killed him, activists said.