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Assad A 'Mute Devil,' Says Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish PM

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In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets with a delegation of Jordanian political activists, lawyers, doctors and engineers who support him, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA) | AP

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates -- Turkey's prime minister denounced Syria's leader Sunday, calling him a "mute devil" for carrying out attacks on his own people but not standing up to Israel's occupation of Syrian territory.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan received several rounds of applause at a government communications forum in the United Arab Emirates, which has joined other Gulf nations in backing Syrian rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad.

"We will not remain silent in the face of the cruel dictator, the mute devil, who mercilessly carried out massacres against his own people, but who has remained silent and unresponsive toward those who have occupied his own territories for decades," Erdogan told the gathering in Sharjah, just north of Dubai.

Israel captured the strategic Golan Heights plateau in 1967. Despite hostility between the two countries, Israel and Syria have not gone to war since 1973 and the border region has been generally without major tensions for decades.

Erdogan, whose nation watches over teeming Syrian refugee camps, urged world leaders to denounce attacks on civilians by the Syrian regime, saying "we must to stand up to cruelty and aggression."

The comments came just hours before the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to begin his first official overseas trip that will include talks with NATO allies, including Turkey, on ways to end nearly two years of bloodshed in Syria that has claimed at least 70,000 lives.

The U.S. and Western allies have resisted rebel appeals to supply heavy arms, fearing the weapons could escalate the civil war and possibly fall into the hands of Islamist militant factions that have joined the fight against Assad.

"We cannot remain silent," said Erdogan, a keynote speaker at the conference to examine government media strategies and outreach.

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