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Cutting out Syria, Turkey considers Iraq as alternate trade route as Damascus faces sanctions
BEIRUT (AP) ' Regional pressure mounted against President Bashar Assad's regime on Tuesday as Saudi Arabia urged its citizens to leave Syria, and Turkey said it could use Iraq as an alternative trade route. That would cut out Syria entirely as Damascus faces broad economic sanctions over its deadly crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising.
Russia's foreign minister, however, gave the regime a boost, warning against imposing ultimatums on Assad's government.
Activists said at least 11 Syrians were killed by security forces in a series of raids and house searches on Tuesday, five in the tense Damascus suburb of Rankous, five in the central city of Homs and one in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib.
Syria has been a main transit route for Middle East trade, which Damascus hopes will help cushion the effects of tough new sanctions from the Arab League and Turkey. The Arab sanctions were expected to bite far more than existing sanctions from the U.S. and the European Union, which had far more limited trade with Damascus.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said the Arab sanctions amounted to "economic warfare" and warned Damascus could use its strategic location to inflict economic damage of its own.
Turkey's transport minister said there are alternatives to Syria, although he gave no specifics about when such a move might be taken.
"We are planning to conduct transit transport through Iraq, by opening new (border) gates, if the situation with Syria worsens," Binali Yildirim told the state-run Anadolu Agency on Tuesday. He said Turkey would increase the number of border gates with Iraq in such an event.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking at a joint news conference with Luxembourg's foreign minister Tuesday, said sanctions on Syria would never include cutting water or electricity supplies.
Responding to a question, he said the possibility of establishing a buffer zone inside Syria was not on the agenda, but did not completely rule out the possibility.
"Let's hope that the decisions by the Arab League and that the calls made on Syria find a response and that more bloodshed in Syria can be prevented," he said. "However, if the repression continues, Turkey is ready for all kinds of scenarios, but this does not mean that we will use the military option."
Despite Arab League sanctions against Damascus, a Syrian government official said Tuesday that al-Moallem will attend an emergency meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation Wednesday in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the situation in Syria.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to give official statements.
Syria has seen the bloodiest crackdown against the Arab Spring's eruption of protests, with the U.N. reporting at least 3,500 people killed since March.
Syria blames the violence on terrorists and armed extremists acting out a foreign conspiracy. To back up that narrative, at a Monday news conference al-Moallem showed journalists in Damascus gruesome images of charred bodies and bearded gunmen. He said it was filmed during unrest in Syria.
But a group of seven Lebanese men on Tuesday accused Syrian authorities of using old video from Lebanon to back up the claims. They said a segment of the video was filmed during sectarian clashes in the Bab al-Tabbaneh district in northern Lebanon in 2008 ' and that they appear in it.
The men took journalists to the spot where they said video was filmed.
"This is proof of the Syrian regime's complete bankruptcy and how they resort to lies and fabrications," said Dani Danash, one of the people whose picture was said to appear in the video.
Assad is depending on strong support from Russia and China to withstand the sanctions and growing isolation.
Last month, Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria, arguing that NATO misused a previous U.N. mandate authorizing use of force in Libya.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov angrily dismissed calls for an arms embargo, calling them "unfair," and echoing regime allegations that militant groups opposing the government have been armed from the outside.
"The most important thing now is to stop acting through ultimatums and try to use political means," Lavrov said.
The U.N.'s top human rights body will hold an urgent meeting Friday to discuss the situation in Syria, Western diplomats in Geneva said. It will be the third special session of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council since the uprising against Assad started in March.
Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.