Beirut: Turkey's Prime Minister compared Syria's President to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, as Damascus defied international calls to end the crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising.

President Bashar Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops and snipers in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in August, killing hundreds and detaining thousands.

"We made our calls (to Gaddafi) but unfortunately we got no result," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "The same thing is happening with Syria at the moment."

The conflict in Libya, which began a month before Syria's unrest, has descended into a civil war as Gaddafi defies calls to end the bloodshed.

Erdogan said he personally spoke to Assad and sent his foreign minister to Damascus, but "despite all of this, they are continuing to strike civilians."

Turkey, a neighbour and former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus' crackdown. But Turkey, Syria's most important trade partner, has not joined the US and Europe in imposing sanctions.

With tension rising, the UN said it has temporarily withdrawn about two dozen "nonessential" international staff from Syria because of security concerns.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq also said some family members of UN staff have been relocated to other countries. The government insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out terrorists fomenting unrest in the country. In comments carried on the state-run news agency, Assad appeared to lash out at the international reproach, saying his country will not give up its "dignity and sovereignty."

(Agencies)