Turkey says Assad exploiting delays to Syria peace talks

A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he takes a position inside a room in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi (Reuters)

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday of exploiting delays to planned U.S. and Russian-backed peace talks by stepping up attacks on the opposition and said the conference must take place quickly if it was to be of use. Russia, which strongly backs Assad, and the United States announced in May they would try to bring Syria's government and opposition together at the so-called Geneva 2 peace talks, but a date has so far proved elusive. "The (Assad) regime is orchestrating an absolute human tragedy by ramping up its bombings recently and leaving its people starving through a siege," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Istanbul. "Geneva 2 should convene, produce results ... and the calendar should not be allowed to be exploited," he said. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday he hoped the conference could be convened in mid-December but he could not yet give an exact date. More than two and half years into Syria's civil war, the balance of power has tilted in favor of Assad and against the increasingly fragmented rebels. Turkey, a backer of the opposition which faces a growing threat of spillover across its 900 km (560-mile) border with Syria, has supported international peace efforts but has become increasingly frustrated by a lack of concrete progress. "As Turkey we have supported all diplomatic initiatives. But since May, there's been constant talk about Geneva 2, and expectations mount, but it ends in disappointment because there are no positive results," Davutoglu said. (Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva,; Writing by Nick Tattersall, Editing by Angus MacSwan)