Ankara rails against Damascus over border clashes

Turkish FM: Today’s cease-fire deadline has become void; 30 killed in bombardment in central Syria.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
April 10, 2012 00:41
4 minute read.
Syrian refugees: Islahiye camp in Gazintep, Turkey

Syrian refugees at Islahiye camp in Gazintep, Turkey 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

Turkey condemned the clashes between Syrian soldiers and rebel fighters that took place along its border with Syria on Monday, in which at least five people were wounded, including two Turkish officials.

The clashes occurred inside Syria close to the border with Turkey. Two Syrian citizens living in the Kilis refugee camp on the Turkish side, and two Turkish citizens working there, were wounded, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

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“We strongly condemn this tragic incident which took place at a time when [Syrian] armed forces should be drawn back as part of [UN and Arab League envoy to Syria] Kofi Annan’s mission,” it said in a statement.

“Syrian citizens who flee the violence of the Syrian regime are under Turkey’s full guarantee. It is natural that we will take necessary precautions if such incidents occur again.”

Meanwhile Monday, a military bombardment of a town in central Syria killed 30 people on the eve of a scheduled army withdrawal from urban areas, opposition activists said, dashing the prospects of a UN-brokered cease-fire taking hold.

The unrelenting violence indicated that a peace plan Annan promoted and both sides initially accepted was in tatters.

Syria was to have started pulling troops out of towns and cities by Tuesday, paving the way for a cease-fire to start 48 hours later.

But President Bashar Assad on Sunday said his foes must give written guarantees they would stop fighting and lay down their arms – a demand they immediately rejected.

Nor did government forces show any sign they were starting to pull back on Monday.

“April 10 has become void,” Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru said in Ankara, referring to the stated deadline.

The state-run SANA news agency continues to portray the uprising as a foreignsponsored conspiracy. On Sunday it reported Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Abdel Fattah Ammoura as lauding the public for “expos[ing] the dimensions of the US-Zionist project” targeting Syria.

“Ammoura reviewed the dimensions of the conspiracy against Syria and means of overcoming it through reforms and the restoration of security and stability to the country,” SANA reported.

Syria blames the uprising on foreign-backed terrorists determined to destabilize the government.

The same day, the news agency published remarks by the Melkite Catholic patriarch Gregory III praising Syrians for their unity “in the face of the plot targeting their country.”

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the Assad government’s efforts to set new conditions were “unacceptable.”

China, which has supported Assad in his yearlong effort to crush the uprising against his family’s dynastic rule, called on both sides to honor the cease-fire and support Annan’s efforts.

Russia, which has defended Assad in the UN Security Council and remains his most important ally, stopped short of pressing him to rein in his army.

“Attempts to force a solution on Syria from outside will lead only to an escalation of tension,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said. “Everything must follow from respect for Syria’s sovereignty, and violence must be stopped.”

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Opposition activists said the military bombarded al-Latmana, northwest of the city of Hama on Monday, killing 30 people. Among the dead were 17 children and eight women, they said. Hama has been in the forefront of the uprising, which began with street protests in March 2011 and has since intensified into armed conflict.

In clashes near the Turkish border, rebels killed at least six members of the Syrian security forces and customs officials, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Eight rebel fighters were wounded in the action, which took place in Salama village, between the Syrian town of Azaz and the Turkish town of Kilis, the British-based Observatory said.

State news said nine security men and a civilian were shot dead and 13 wounded in Aleppo, Syria’s second city. The Observatory said two policemen were killed in clashes with gunmen in Aleppo, a commercial center that has generally been pro-Assad.

In Damascus province, four soldiers were killed in the bombing of a convoy as Syrian forces swept villages arresting opposition suspects, the Observatory said.

Bloodshed also spilled into northern Lebanon, where a cameraman for the al- Jadeed television channel was shot dead.

Sources at the channel said the shooting occurred in the border region between Syria and Lebanon’s northern Wadi Khaled district.

Col. Qassem Saad al-Deen, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, said on Sunday that at least 1,000 people had been killed during the past week, most of them civilians.

Reports from both sides are difficult to verify independently as the government restricts access for most foreign reporters.

Anti-Assad activists say the army is trying to seize back swaths of northwestern Idlib province from rebel control, using tanks and helicopters and driving terrified villagers north and west to the Turkish frontier.

Assad, who has ruled for 10 years since succeeding his late father, Hafez Assad, has laid out his own reform program but the opposition dismissed it.

The UN says government forces have killed 9,000 people in the crackdown, while the government says rebels have killed more than 3,000 soldiers and security personnel.


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