Tension escalates at Turkey-Syria border before Annan visit

Tension escalates at Turkey-Syria border before Annan visit

Tension escalated on Monday between Turkey and Syria after shots from the Syrian side into Turkey injured three people, angering Ankara a day before a visit by international envoy Kofi Annan.

Two Syrians and a Turkish translator were wounded near a refugee camp in southeastern province of Kilis along the Syrian border, diplomatic sources told AFP.

The incident marked the first time Syrian fire from across the border hurt people on Turkish soil, prompting Turkey’s foreign ministry to urgently contact the Syrian mission in Ankara to “immediately halt the shootings,” a source said.

The attack came after 17 wounded Syrians were smuggled into Turkey in the aftermath of an overnight clash in their village of Sucu in Aleppo province, situated close to the border.

Two of the wounded died shortly after they arrived, while the rest were under treatment in hospitals in Kilis, a local health official told Anatolia news agency.

The incidents caused panic among refugees at the Kilis camp, who often go out to meet fellow countrymen trying to flee but become the targets of snipers on the other side of the border.

It was not immediately clear who fired the shots into Turkey, or whether the group helping the wounded out of Syria was targeted.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu briefed UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the international envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, on the escalating number of Syrians arriving at the border, some of them with wounds.

Turkish diplomatic sources say Annan will visit refugees at the border on Tuesday, while prominent US senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman are also expected to pay a visit to the camps.

Syrians accompanying the wounded into Turkey said that clashes in Syrian towns on Sunday night left many wounded despite the imminence of a ceasefire supposedly agreed by Damascus with Annan for Tuesday, but they were only able to carry some of them across the border.

Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru was pessimistic about the ceasefire coming into force, saying, “April 10 is invalid, a new phase starts tomorrow.”

Koru’s words backed up a warning from Turkey’s prime minister of unspecified measures if Damascus fails to abide by the April 10 deadline to cease its yearlong crackdown on dissent that has left nearly 10,000 people dead.

But “we will implement steps” if violence does not stop after that, he added.

Several scenarios are being floated by the press, including the setting up of a buffer zone along the border to protect the large numbers of refugees.

Turkey has taken in some 4,000 Syrians since last Thursday, pushing up the number of refugees on its soil to more than 25,000.