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Turkey issues "final word" to Syria

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Bashar al-Assad on Monday military operations against civilians must end immediately and unconditionally, warning the Syrian president that this was Ankara’s “final word.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses the media in Ankara August 15, 2011. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

“This is our final word to the Syrian authorities, our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally,” Davutoglu said in Turkey’s strongest rhetoric yet against its once close ally and neighbor.

“If these operations do not stop, there will be nothing left to say about the steps that would be taken,” he told a news conference, without elaborating.

“We have been in contact and have repeated our demands and have emphasized our expectations.”

Davutoglu said operations against civilians had intensified since Thursday evening.

“In the context of human rights this cannot be seen as a domestic issue,” he told reporters, without taking questions or making clear whether he spoke directly to Assad.

Turkish leaders, who once backed Assad but have repeatedly urged him to end violence and make reforms after street protests against his 11 years in power erupted five months ago, are sounding increasingly frustrated at Damascus.

Turkey, a Muslim NATO member that has applied to join the European Union, is one of the few countries in the world that has open communication lines with Damascus.

Davutoglu visited Damascus last week and held talks with Assad.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who spoke last week with President Barack Obama about violence in Syria, said he hoped Syria would take steps toward reform within 10-15 days.

However the bloodshed has continued. The Syrian navy shelled two densely populated residential districts of the main Mediterranean port city of Latakia on Sunday, residents and rights campaigners said.

Reporting by Jonathon Burch, Tulay Karadeniz and Ibon Villelabeitia; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia