5 hurt as gunfire from Syria hits camp in Turkey
KILIS, Turkey — Syrian forces fired across the border today into a refugee camp in Turkey, wounding at least five people as a U.N.-brokered plan to end more than a year of violence this week all but collapsed, authorities said.
Syrian activists said two people were killed, but the reports could not be immediately confirmed.
The Syrian soldiers were believed to be firing at rebels who tried to escape to the refugee camp after ambushing a military checkpoint, according to the Britainbased Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing a network of sources on the ground.
Turkey shelters thousands of refugees who have fled Syria as the government tries to crush a revolt against President Bashar Assad. The U.N. estimates some 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, when the uprising began.
Today’s shooting bolstered fears that the uprising could spark a broad conflagration by sucking in neighboring countries. There have been similar cross-border attacks into Lebanon, although today’s shooting was believed to be the first inside Turkey.
The incident began at about before dawn today when rebel fighters attacked Syrian soldiers manning a checkpoint near the Turkish border, killing six soldiers, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, a spokesman for the Observatory.
The troops then kept firing as eight wounded rebels escaped to the camp that is just across the border in Turkey, sending bullets whizzing across the frontier into the camp, he said.
According to the Observatory, the shooting wounded five people in the camp, which is next to the Oncupinar border post near the town of Kilis in Gaziantep province. The Observatory reported that two people later died of their injuries, but that could not be immediately confirmed.
The province’s governor, Yusuf Odabas, said five people were wounded: three Syrians, one Turkish translator and one Turkish policeman. The translator had entered the camp to try to help calm an anti-Assad protest, he said. The governor said Turkish military forces did not return fire.
The shooting prompted Ankara, which has been among Assad’s harshest critics, to summon the Syrian charge d’affaires and call for an immediate halt to the gunfire.
Turkey hosts some 24,000 Syrian refugees, including hundreds of army defectors, and has floated the idea of setting up a buffer zone inside Syria if the flow of displaced people across its border becomes overwhelming.
The two countries share a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border, and parts of southern Turkey near Syria are informal logistics bases for rebels, who collect food and other supplies in Turkey and deliver them to comrades inside Syria via smuggling routes.
The Syrian uprising began last year with mostly peaceful protests against the Assad regime, a family dynasty that has ruled the country for four decades. But in the face of a relentless military assault on protests, the opposition has become increasingly militarized.
Now, the uprising resembles an armed insurgency, and there are fears the country is spiraling toward civil war. International envoy Kofi Annan brokered a cease-fire that was supposed to begin Tuesday, but the plan is in tatters.
Syrian troops were meant to pull out of population centers by Tuesday morning, but the government on Sunday introduced a new demand — saying it cannot withdraw without written guarantees from opposition fighters that they will lay down their arms. Syria’s main rebel group rejected the government’s demands.
Naci Koru, Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, said the deadline for the withdrawal has become “ void at this stage,” state-run TRT television reported.
Annan is scheduled to visit to one of the refugee camps in Hatay province, bordering Syria, on Tuesday afternoon, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said. Annan’s office confirmed the trip to Turkey.
“Annan’s one-hour visit to Hatay tomorrow is critical, he will see the situation himself,” the TRT quoted Koru as saying today.
Annan has been on a serious diplomatic push to rally support for his cease-fire deal. The international community, which so far is unwilling to contemplate military intervention, has had little leverage over Syria.
But Iran, Russia and China have been Assad’s strongest supporters. Annan already has traveled to Russia and China, and he was expected in Tehran on Tuesday.