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Syria cease-fire unlikely after reports of cross-border killings

Opposition activists say Syrian soldiers fired into a refugee camp in Turkey, killing two, and a news cameraman was shot dead along the border in Lebanon.

April 10, 2012|By Rima Marrouch
  • Syrian refugees watch the border from a camp in Kilis, Turkey.
Syrian refugees watch the border from a camp in Kilis, Turkey. (Ihlas News Agency )

Prospects for a cease-fire in Syria further dimmed Monday when fighting spilled over the border into Turkey and Lebanon, leaving at least three people dead, opposition activists said.

An additional 160 people were killed within Syria, activists said, as forces loyal to embattled President Bashar Assad continued to shell buildings and shoot at residents of rebellious cities on the eve of a proposed halt to the hostilities.

Government troops and tanks were due to be withdrawn Tuesday from cities and towns, but that seemed increasingly unlikely as the violence has only escalated in the last week and on Sunday the Assad government demanded written guarantees from all opposition groups, a proposal that the rebel Free Syrian Army dismissed.

On Monday, activists said, Syrian soldiers fired across the border into a refugee camp in Turkey, killing two camp residents and wounding several. The casualty count was not certain; a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry said four people were injured but did not mention deaths.

In Lebanon, heavy gunfire from Syrian soldiers over the border killed Al Jadeed television cameraman Ali Shaaban, the news channel reported. Shaaban was in a vehicle when he was shot.

"We saw [him] die in the car and we weren't able to pull him out and we stayed like that for three hours until the residents of Wadi Khaled helped us get out of the area," a colleague, reporter Hussein Khreis, said.

In Syria, 52 people were killed in the town of Rastan in Homs province under continuous shelling, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition coalition.

An additional 45 were reported dead from random shelling in the town of Tal Rifaat in Aleppo province. Fifteen more were reported stabbed to death at a checkpoint there. And in the town of Latamna in Hama province, government forces, which reportedly carried out a massacre there last week, stormed in again and opened fire on homes, killing 36 people, activists said. The bodies of 17 children, eight women and four men were pulled from the rubble, the Local Coordination Committees said.

Many in the opposition have little hope for the cease-fire and are banking on its failure to compel international intervention, including providing weapons to the rebels and establishing a no-fly zone.

The shootings in Turkey on Monday may have raised the chances of drawing it into the conflict.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said "everything is on the table" when asked whether the attack would affect Turkey's involvement, including options such as creating a buffer zone along the border or allowing weapons to reach rebel forces.

In a statement from the ministry, Turkey strongly condemned the attack and characterized the Syrian government as attempting to exploit the peace plan to intensify violence against its own people.

"Syrian citizens who took refuge in our country from the brutality of the current regime in Syria are under Turkey's full protection," the statement said. "We will certainly take necessary measures if such incidents reoccur."

Gokhan Bacik, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Zirve University in Turkey, said the Turkish government probably would use the attack to encourage the international community to intervene.

"I don't think there's anything more Turkey can do verbally," Bacik said. He added that any sort of unilateral action on the part of Turkey, like creating a buffer zone, was unlikely.

The shooting at the Kilis camp led Turkish authorities to summon the Syrian ambassador in Ankara, the capital, to demand an end to clashes in the border area.

Fighting between Syrian forces and Free Syrian Army rebels has frequently taken place at night along the border, activists said.

"We hear gunfire every night. But it is the first time they directly fire at the camp," said Tariq, an activist at the camp.

The camp is about 550 yards from the border and holds about 8,000 refugees, he said.

He said the two slain refugees "were both standing next to me on a higher ground, watching the clashes. I was filming when they were killed."

Special correspondent Marrouch reported from Beirut.

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