BEIRUT — Turkey pledged on Sunday its continued support for the Syrian opposition, saying its leaders should not be pressured into talks with the regime as civil war rages.
Speaking at a security conference in Germany, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country supports efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria, but he understands the opposition's refusal to talk to President Bashar al-Assad after so many Syrian deaths in the fight to topple him.
"It is easy to say now, [the] opposition should accept to sit with the regime, after 60,000 people have been killed," Davutoglu said at the gathering of top diplomats and security officials in Munich.
"Assuming that tomorrow there is a new election in [Assad's] presence, who will guarantee the safety of the opposition leaders?" Davutoglu said.
Opposition leaders categorically refused any talks with Damascus until Assad steps down. In a sharp departure from their resolve, the coalition's president, Moaz al-Khatib, said Wednesday he is willing to talk to the regime if that would help end bloodshed.
Like the United States and its Western allies, Turkey has repeatedly called on Assad to step down. Assad brushed the calls aside, outlining a peace proposal last month that would put him in charge of national reconciliation talks.
Russia, Assad's most important international ally, said the insistence on his ouster before political talks can begin, was counterproductive. Another staunch supporter of Damascus, Iran, said Tehran would welcome the opposition leaders to talks.
"Iran has talked to the opposition," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in Munich. "We are ready to be part of the solution," he insisted. "The sooner that we resolve the issue, the better it is."
In the battlefield city of Aleppo in northern Syria, at least 16 people were killed when government troops bombed a building in a rebel-held neighborhood, activists said.
In other violence in the city, the official SANA news agency said a former parliament member, his wife and two daughters were killed near the Aleppo airport. The report said "terrorists," the term the Syrian government uses for rebels, fired at Ibrahim Azzouz's car in Sheik Said neighborhood, killing the family.
Rebels captured the strategic Sheik Said neighborhood southeast of Aleppo on Saturday. It was a significant blow to regime forces because the area includes the road the army has used to supply troops.
Troops loyal to Assad and rebels have been locked in a deadly stalemate in Aleppo, Syria's largest urban center and main commercial hub, since an opposition assault last summer.
Seven months later, the rebels hold large parts of the city and its outskirts, including several army bases. But they have been unable to overcome the regime's far superior firepower.
The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which opposes the regime, said government troops bombarded a building in in Aleppo's rebel-held neighborhood of Ansari and killed at least 16 people, including 10 children and youth.
The Aleppo Media Center, a network of anti-regime activists in the city, said 20 people were killed in the shelling of Eastern Ansari. An amateur video released by the group showed a building reduced to a pile of debris with dozens of people digging through the rubble in search for survivors.
"The family of the man over there is still under the rubble," a man could be heard saying, referring to a man standing in the area.
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
In southern Syria, the Observatory said that troops shelled the city of Daraa, the birthplace of the uprising, and killed at least one rebel. The group added that troops shelled the nearby towns of Kahil, Saida and Tel Shehab wounding a number of people.
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