Critical day for Syria as fight spills into Turkey
Turkey steps up its rhetoric against the Syran regime as the clashes spill over Turkey’s border for the first time ahead of today’s truce deadline. Ankara warns of dire consequences for any repeat of such violence
Syrians, including women and children, fleeing to Turkey’s Bükülmez village in the Reyhanlı district of Hatay. AA photoThe Turkish Foreign Ministry yesterday delivered a stern warning to the top Syrian diplomat in Ankara, pressing for an immediate halt to shooting at the border.
A senior official also said U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan had become irrelevant amid the escalating bloodshed. The Syrian chargé d’affaires was summoned to the Foreign Ministry after two Turks – a policeman and a translator – and four Syrians were injured at a refugee camp in the border province of Kilis from bullets emerging from clashes on the Syrian side.
Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu said the shooting at the frontier had to stop and warned of “consequences,” diplomatic sources said. Earlier in the day, deputy undersecretary Halit Çevik had telephoned the chargé d’affaires to convey a similar message.
Three Syrians died
In a written statement, the ministry said all Syrians who take shelter in Turkey were under the country’s “full protection” and warned that “the necessary measures will be implemented if such incidents are repeated.” The statement accused Syria of “exploiting” international initiatives to end the unrest as a means of stepping up the crackdown on the opposition and condemned the shooting as a “grave” development on the eve of the expiration of the April 10 deadline set by Annan for an end to hostilities.
“The Syrian administration must stop violence against civilians as soon as possible and the international community should take immediate action to secure that,” it said. Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru, meanwhile, signaled that Ankara had no hope that Annan’s initiative could bear fruit and signaled preparations for fresh action to increase pressure on Damascus.
Referring to the April 10 deadline for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to withdraw the Syrian military from urban centers, Koru said: “April 10 has become irrelevant. A new phase will be starting tomorrow [today].”
Koru also said Ankara was investigating the shooting incident at the Kilis camp and evaluating “how serious it is and whether it was directed at us.” Kilis Gov. Yusuf Odabaş said the injuries were caused by bullets from clashes on the other side of the border, which erupted when opposition groups attempted to seize control of the border crossing from regime forces. Turkish security forces in no way intervened or used arms, he said. Twenty-one Syrians wounded in the clashes managed to cross into Turkey through a mine-ridden stretch of land. Three died in hospital and another two in critical condition have been transferred to a hospital in the adjacent province of Gaziantep, Odabaş said, adding that crossings from Turkey to Syria had been suspended as a security measure. In the neighboring province of Hatay, police stopped about 300 Syrians when they attempted to march to the border and stage an anti-al-Assad protest. The total number of Syrians taking refuge in Turkey has reached 24,200, the head of Turkey’s emergency agency, Fuat Oktay, said yesterday. Oktay added that a new tent city had been opened in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa.