JERUSALEM, Israel -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused his "good friend," neighbor and long-time ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, of committing "atrocities" against anti-government protesters.
"They are not acting in a humane manner. This is savagery," Erdogan said in an interview aired on Turkish state television Thursday night. Erdogan said his country cannot support Syria in the U.N. Security Council as it weighs stronger sanctions against Assad's regime.
When the uprising began nearly three months ago, Jonathan Spyer, director of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center's Global Research Center in International Affairs, told CBN News "this regime will be prepared to use very violent means." And indeed it has.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also questioned the legitimacy of Assad's rule.
"I would say the slaughter of innocent lives in Syria should be a problem and a concern for everybody," Gates said during a seminar in Brussels, AP reported.
Earlier Thursday, dozens of Syrian tanks and troop carriers stationed themselves a few miles outside the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour. Syrian state TV has been airing images of dead security forces and policemen allegedly killed by "armed groups" this week in the town of 50,000 residents.
Around 15,000 troops, led by Assad's brother, Maher Assad, were deployed to "restore security" where the government claims 120 security forces were killed earlier this week. But eyewitnesses reported that hundreds of soldiers shed their uniforms and were trying to cross the border into Turkey.
As many as 2,700 Syrians fled to Turkey this week, where they're living in a tent refugee camp in the border town of Yayladagi, set up by Turkey's Red Crescent. Erdogan said the country would not close its border to the asylum seekers, The Telegraph reported.
"It is out of the question for us to shut down the border crossings," Erdogan said. "The developments in Syria are saddening. We are watching it with great concern."
A spokeswoman for Assad's government said there were no refugees fleeing the country. Syrians were visiting their relatives in Turkey, she said.
More than 1,300 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed since the uprising against Assad's regime began, human rights groups estimate.
Since Erdogan took office in 2003, tourism and trade between Syria and Turkey has grown to nearly $2 billion annually.