Syria Blames ‘Murderer’ Erdogan for Bombings

MOSCOW (Reuters) -
A man checks an apartment in a damaged building at the site of a blast in the town of Reyhanli in Hatay province, near the Turkish-Syrian border, Monday. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
A man checks an apartment in a damaged building at the site of a blast in the town of Reyhanli in Hatay province, near the Turkish-Syrian border, Monday. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

Syria’s information minister has blamed Turkey’s government for deadly car bombings near the Syrian border and branded Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan a “murderer,” state-run Russian media company RT reported on Monday.

The bombings took place as prospects appeared to improve for diplomacy to try to end the war in Syria, after Moscow and Washington announced a joint effort to bring government and rebels to an international conference as soon as possible.

“All responsibility for what has happened lies with the Turkish government and Erdogan personally,” RT quoted Omran Zubi as saying in an interview with its Arabic-language channel.

“I demand his resignation as a murderer and an executioner. He has no right to build a political career on the blood of the Turkish and Syrian people,” RT quoted Zubi as saying.

It said he repeated a denial of Syrian involvement in car bombings that killed 46 people on Saturday in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. Turkey has accused a group with links to Syrian intelligence of carrying out the attacks.

The car bombs increased fears that Syria’s civil war, in which a Syrian opposition group says more than 82,000 people have been killed since it began with a government crackdown on protests in March 2011, is dragging in neighboring states.

The U.S.-Russian peace initiative, which followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, has touched off a flurry of diplomacy.

The Kremlin said Putin would discuss Syria and other issues with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Russia on Tuesday. An Israeli official confirmed Netanyahu’s trip.

Israel has asked Russia not to sell Syria an advanced air defense system, the S-300, which would help President Bashar al-Assad fend off any foreign military intervention, though the United States and NATO have shown little appetite for that.

Russia vehemently opposes military intervention in Syria and criticized Israeli air strikes this month that Israeli sources say were aimed solely at preventing advanced weaponry from getting to the Iranian-backed Hizbullah group, an Assad ally, in Lebanon.

Pitfalls on Road to Geneva

Russia, a traditional arms supplier to Damascus, says it is fulfilling longstanding contracts for air defense weaponry but has not specified whether it would supply Syria with the S-300.

A Russian official said Lavrov would meet Kerry again on the sidelines of an Arctic forum in Sweden this week.

British PM David Cameron said he had been heartened that talks with Putin on Friday showed “a recognition that it would be in all our interests to secure a safe and secure Syria with a democratic and pluralistic future and end the regional instability.”

Russia has been Assad’s strongest protector in the conflict, opposing U.N. sanctions and, along with China, blocking three Western-backed Security Council resolutions on Syria.

Russia has agreed with Western powers that Syria needs a transitional government. It says it is not trying to prop up Assad but that his exit must not be a precondition for talks.

A Western official, who asked not to be identified, voiced skepticism that the conference that Moscow and Washington are trying to convene in Geneva would actually materialize, saying the question of Assad’s role remained a stumbling block.