Turkey held talks with Bahrain’s opposition this week as Ankara sought to defuse tensions on the island, which it fears could become the site of a destabilising proxy battle between Iran and the Arab Gulf states.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, held talks with members of Al-Wefaq, the main Shia group, on Tuesday while on an official visit that included talks with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Turkey’s diplomatic effort follows the Bahraini government’s rejection of previous calls for dialogue with the opposition, including an attempt by Kuwait to broker mediation efforts.

A security crackdown against pro-democracy protesters has left at least 28 dead and about 100 arrested since February 17.

Western officials say the US has moderated its criticism of Bahrain’s use of force against demonstrators as it sought Arab backing for military operations against Libya.

Turkey, which is trying to broker a ceasefire in Libya, has been flexing its diplomatic muscle across the Middle East. Mr Davutoglu flew from Bahrain to meet the Libyan opposition in Qatar, and continued to Syria for talks with Bashar al-Assad, the president.

But Ankara views the conflict in Bahrain as especially dangerous, because of its potential to deepen sectarian divisions between the majority Shia population and minority Sunni leadership, attract further interference from outside powers and provoke wider regional instability.

Bahrain invited armed forces from the Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into the country ahead of a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Pearl roundabout in Manama, the capital, last month.

The Arab Gulf states have since been ramping up a war of words against Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbollah, accusing them of interfering in the domestic affairs of Bahrain.

Tehran and Hizbollah have denied interference, but condemned the government’s crackdown. Three weeks after pro-democracy protesters were violently cleared from Pearl roundabout, security forces continue to wage a campaign against perceived protesters from the Shia community.

Shia villages face frequent incursions from security forces seeking to break up demonstrations that have been banned by the military.

Many of the injured are being treated informally in private homes rather than risk arrest by moving the wounded to hospital.

Médecins sans Frontières has called on the government to provide equal medical access for all, accusing the security forces of beating injured demonstrators and medical staff.

Hospitals and health centres are now “places to be feared” as they are used as “bait for arrest,” the pressure group said in a report published on Thursday.

Salmaniya Hospital became a focal point for protesters as injuries flooded in after the security forces first cracked down on protesters on February 17. The government says it “liberated” Manama’s main hospital, which it says became a hub of opposition activity.

“This military reaction was exponentially more damaging to the trust in the health system than the activities of the opposition protesters,” MSF said.

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