ISTANBUL • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opened talks in Turkey on Saturday with Turkish officials as well as Syrian opposition figures on how to undermine the Syrian regime and lay the groundwork for a democratic transition.
Meantime, Saturday saw violence in Syria flare anew as gunmen simultaneously detonated two roadside bombs and clashed with police in central Damascus Saturday, causing panic but no injuries or damage in attacks that highlighted the deep reach of rebels in the seat of President Bashar Assad’s power.
On the capital’s edge, Syrian forces pounded a suburb with mortars and artillery shells, a day after rebels operating in the town abducted a pro-government TV crew, activists said. It was the latest attack on pro-regime media and the latest abduction blamed on rebels in Syria’s escalating civil war.
One of the blasts went off in central Damascus’ Marjeh district, when an explosive device planted under a tree was detonated by remote control as a vehicle carrying soldiers passed by, an official at the site of the blast told The Associated Press. The explosion, which caused no casualties, went off about 100 meters (yards) away from the Four Seasons, one of the most luxury hotels in Damascus.
Clinton met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as President Abdullah Gul. Turkey is a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has welcomed Syrian activists working to overthrow him.
The 17-month-old conflict in Syria has defied all international attempts to calm the bloodshed. Rebels and activists said Friday they have had enough of diplomacy and appealed to the international community to send weapons. Syrian rebels said Friday that they were running low on ammunition and guns as government forces tried to consolidate their control over Aleppo, the country’s largest city and a deadly battleground for more than two weeks.
Diplomats, meanwhile, have said former Algerian foreign affairs minister and longtime U.N. official Lakhdar Brahimi has emerged as a strong candidate to replace Kofi Annan as U.N. peace envoy to Syria. Annan announced his resignation last week, ending a frustrating six-month effort that failed to achieve even a temporary cease-fire as the country descended into civil war. Activists say some 20,000 people have been killed.
Clinton also plans to meet Syrian refugees in Istanbul during her visit as the U.S. and allies boost humanitarian relief for civilians who have fled the civil war in Syria. More than 51,000 Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring Turkey, with many more in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. There were more than 6,000 new arrivals in Turkey this week alone, many from the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo and surrounding villages, while others came from Idlib and Latakia.
The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that the number of refugees in four neighboring countries, including Turkey, reached almost 150,000. That figure counts only Syrians who have registered or are in the process of registering as refugees. Officials acknowledge the real number of Syrian refugees is likely above 200,000 since tens of thousands are believed to have not yet registered with authorities.