Syrian clashes reach doorstep of Turkey
Rebels seize the customs building of the Tell Abyad border crossing on the Syrian - Turkish border. REUTERS photo
Fighting between Syrian troops and rebels came within inches of Turkey in the southeastern district of Akçakale yesterday as rebels seized a border crossing after fierce battles that sent bullets flying into Turkey and led authorities to shut all local schools.
Rebels were seen seizing control of the Tell Abyad border crossing, pulling down the Syrian flag and briefly allowing people to crawl under a barbed wire barrier between the countries. Bullets from the fighting reportedly caused injuries in Turkey, but a Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News that it was unclear if the Turkish citizens who were wounded by stray bullets were wounded deliberately or not.
Rebels hold two other crossings on the northern border with Turkey. A third border point would help strengthen their control in the north and put more pressure on the army as they battle for control of Syria’s largest city Aleppo.
Broadcaster CNNTürk’s footage showed a rebel tearing down the Syrian flag on top of what appeared to be a customs building at the Tell Abyad frontier gate. Minutes earlier, sporadic gunfire could be heard and black smoke rose from parts of the building. A crowd of about a dozen people who managed to cross from Turkey to Syria hoisted a rebel flag to replace the national flag, sparking loud cheers and applause.
Civilians escaping the violence reported that several people were killed in the fighting around Tell Abyad, Doğan news agency reported. Some 300 Syrians had fled over to Turkey around Akçakale in Şanlıurfa province to escape the fighting, a Turkish official said.
Turkish authorities quickly closed the area and police prevented the crowd from trying to storm the border and cross into Syria. The takeover comes after a day of fierce clashes as rebels and regime forces fought for control of the crossing. The district governor’s office in Akçakale ordered all schools in the town and the neighboring villages to close for the day and banned all agricultural work in the area.
“A heavy hail of bullets is landing here. We are scared. We had to stay in another house last night. We don’t know what to do,” a man in his 40s told CNNTürk hours before the post was seized. A Turkish woman and her daughter were wounded on the night of Sept. 18 by stray bullets, and an official said other bullets had smashed windows in several houses in Turkey along the border.
Camps near border
In all, the chaos in Syria has been having a negative impact on Turkey, the Foreign Ministry official said.
A Syrian dissident who spoke on condition of anonymity said there were several camps of the rebel Free Syrian Army in the “zero point” between the Turkish and Syrian border and that the rebels who seized the border crossing were most probably trained in these camps.
“The camps are located on the Syrian side of the border, on the zero point, but they move the places of these camps constantly in order not to be recognized by the Syrian regime. The rebels in Tell Abyad [probably came] from one of these camps,” he added.
İpek Yezdani from Istanbul contributed to this report.