Rebels claim control of Turkish-Syrian border
Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa (C) walks between two military officers during the state funerals of the victims of the July 18 suicide bombing in Damascus. AFP photo
Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad have been left in control of only one of Syria’s eight border gates with Turkey after losing control of the others in pitched battles with rebels July 20, according to a Turkish official.
Rebels started gaining control of the crossings late July 19, according to a local official. An Agence France-Presse photographer reported that armed rebel Free Syrian Army fighters fought a raging battle with Syrian troops at the Bab al-Hawa border post across from the Cilvegözü crossing of Turkey and that some 150 rebels were in control of the crossing on July 20, showing pictures of the rebels. Meanwhile, Commander of Second Army Gen. Servet Yörük visited troops in Karkamış village near the Syrian border.
An Iraqi government spokesman said Syrian rebels were in control of one major border crossing between the two counties, but that three others remained in the hands of the Syrian regime and were processing thousands of migrants fleeing their neighbor’s civil war. On July 20, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh refuted earlier reports that rebels had seized all four major border crossings between Syria and Iraq. The reported border seizures were widely feared to be the first major sign of Syria’s civil war spilling over into Iraq.
Following the rise of the violent clashes in and around Damascus as well as across Syria, thousands have fled to neighboring Lebanon, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Up to 30,000 Syrians have fled into Lebanon over the past 48 hours, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva on July 20.
“Thousands of Syrians crossed into Lebanon yesterday. Reports vary between 8,500 and 30,000 people having crossed in the past 48 hours,” Fleming said. “People continue to arrive in Jordan, Turkey ... they are flooding into Lebanon and increasingly into Iraq.” Currently 43,387 Syrians, who have fled violence in their country, are being sheltered in 10 camps in Turkey. In Syria, al-Assad forces launched an all-out assault on opposition strongholds in Damascus on July 20, a security services source said, two days after an explosion, claimed by the FSA, killed high-ranking officials in Damascus.
“The army launched a counter-offensive to retake control of areas infiltrated by terrorists to guarantee the security of residents and allow them to return to their homes,” the security source said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that regime forces had stormed the Jubar neighborhood of Damascus. “Syrian regular forces, including trucks and cars packed with heavily armed men, stormed the district of Jubar,” the watchdog said.
Security meet in Ankara
Meanwhile, Gen. Hisham Ikhtiyar, the head of Syrian national security wounded in a Damascus bomb blast that killed three senior officials, died of his wounds on July 20, state television announced.
In Ankara, at a meeting of Turkish Foreign Ministry and security officials on July 19, Ankara assessed the possible security risks that might come out after the explosion killed al-Assad’s close circles of advisors in Damascus on July 18, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned. Turkey’s concerns increased as Syrian Information Minister Umran al-Zuabi accused Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia and Israel of organizing the strong blast and said “the attack will not go unpunished.”
Turkey also expressed its disappointment over Russia and China’s vetoing of a U.N. draft resolution on Syria. “At a time when the situation in Syria is acquiring more tragic dimension each day, it is disappointing that the UNSMIS draft resolution ... has been vetoed for a third time,” the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said July 20.
As Ankara voiced dismay over Russia and China’s blocking of U.N. action against the Syrian regime, the increasing impasse at the United Nations prompted Washington to suggest that the diplomatic focus should now shift back to alternatives such as the “Friends of Syria.”
A Turkish official reiterated Washington’s suggestion, saying that Russia and China’s veto of the resolution in the U.N. Security Council negatively affected the Geneva process.