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Syrian rebels ‘using Turkish refugee camps as base’

Published time: April 10, 2012 10:59
Edited time: April 10, 2012 21:56

Syrian refugees sit in front of a tent at Boynuyogun refugee camp in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border April 2, 2012 (Reuters/Osman Orsal)

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The Syrian army’s pursuit of rebels across the Turkish border has shed light on claims of rebel groups using refugee camps as safe havens. Reports suggest the Free Syrian Army could be treating them as springboards to launch incursions into Syria.

RT correspondent Sara Firth interviewed an anonymous source on the Syrian-Turkish border following the incident, who said that members of the Free Syrian Army were operating in the border region.

“They [Syrian rebels] cross the border, then they walk back again. Maybe the Turkish army finds some and takes them back to the camp, others just come by themselves. A lot of these people work with the Free Syrian Army,” he said.

He added that the Turkish government turns a blind eye to their movements and “lets them go back to fight.”

RT also spoke to a member of the Free Syrian Army operating in the area, who told her the opposition wanted to pressure the Turkish government into providing “arms and equipment from NATO.”

According to media reports, Syrian regime troops who were pursuing insurgents after they attacked a military checkpoint opened fire across the border, killing one and injuring several people.

Turkey has been highly critical of the Assad regime, and has previously been accused of harboring and training Syrian rebels in the south of the country close to the border region.

Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds wrote in December that US and NATO troops had been training insurgents in Hakkari, southern Turkey.

The country is host to around 24,000 Syrian refugees, including hundreds of army defectors who have fled since the uprising began against Assad 13 months ago. On Tuesday, Kofi Annan visited several camps along the Turkish border, where he was met with small protests denouncing the Syrian regime.

The Turkish government has considered setting up a buffer zone between the two countries to better control the influx of rebels. In addition, the head of the Free Syrian Army Colonel Riad al-Asaad is believed to be residing in Turkey.

­Turkey rattles the saber

In response to the border shooting, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to take “necessary measures” against Syria. He branded the incursion as a “clear violation” of the border between the two countries during an official visit to Beijing on Tuesday.

Erdogan also accused Assad of being personally responsible for killing civilians.

"He is continuing to kill 60, 70, 80, 100 every day," he said during a visit to Beijing.

The Turkish PM did not elaborate on which measures Ankara is considering taking against Damascus. In any case, Turkey does not seem to be planning any unilateral steps, as Turkish diplomats told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a telephone conversation.

Still, the Syrian envoy to Ankara has been summoned by the Turkish government to explain the shooting at the border.

In response, the Syrian Foreign Minister lashed out against Ankara for providing “all forms of support” to the Syrian rebels. The practice defies Kofi Annan’s peace plan to end bloodshed in Syria, said Walid al-Moallem.

Turkey "provides them with weapons; helps set up bases and supports their illegal movement into the Syrian territory. Annan has told me his plan would bring a complete disarmament to Syria. How is this possible if Turkey continues supplying rebels with weapons and transiting insurgency?" he is quoted by Interfax as saying.

Ankara had been a long-term ally of the Assad regime but made a U-turn in policy, becoming one of the champions of the Syrian opposition.

Istanbul hosted a summit of the Friends of Syria group last week, during which members sought to unify the fragmented Syrian opposition with a view to creating a viable alternative to President Assad.

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