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News, October 2012
Syrian-Turkish Forces Trade Border Fire, Fighting Continues All Over Syria
October 8, 2012
Car bomb rocks police HQ in Damascus as military showdown continues
DAMASCUS, Oct. 7, 2012 (Xinhua) --
A booby-trapped car bombing tore through the garage of the Police Headquarters in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday evening, killing one policeman, as the military showdown continued in many hotspots nationwide between the government troops and the armed rebels, the state-run SANA news agency reported,
The car exploded inside the police headquarters' garage after an explosive device attached to it went off while the car was parked, said SANA, adding that one police member was killed, while others were slightly injured.
The report said the blast also left material damages to the headquarters and nearby buildings and also set a number of parked cars ablaze.
The police command center is located at Khaled Bin al-Walid Street in al- Fahammeh area, which is usually crowded with people and passersby.
The pro-government Sham FM radio quoted the head of the police headquarters, Brigadier Ibrahim Ibrahim, as assuring that all the police staffers are fine.
The blast is the latest in a series of endless circle of violence that has engulfed a number of areas across Syria.
The last major blast rocked the military command headquarters in Damascus two weeks ago and killed four army personnel. Later on, al-Qaida-linked group al-Nusra claimed credit for the blast.
Sunday's brazen blast has come as the Syrian army has reportedly dealt deadly blows to the armed insurgents in a number of Syrian cities, mainly in the northern province of Aleppo, where Sham FM said 60 armed men were killed by the Syrian troops Sunday at Bustan al-Qaser area.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on ground, said that violent clashes took place at al-Midan district in Aleppo as the armed rebels have been pushing to storm a security installation there.
The Observatory also reported clashes and shelling elsewhere and placed the death toll of Sunday's grinding violence at 120.
It said the toll includes 60 unarmed civilians, including six children, 21 rebel fighters, 4 defected soldiers and 29 government forces.
Yet, such accounts are impossible of being checked independently.
Turkey, Syria trade fire; border tensions mount
MEHMET GUZEL | AP
Turkey and Syria fired artillery and mortars across their volatile
border for a fifth consecutive day on Sunday, in one of the most serious
and prolonged flare-ups of violence along the frontier.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had warned on Saturday that Ankara would respond forcefully to each errant Syrian shell that lands on Turkish soil.
Ankara’s warning was coupled by an apparent diplomatic push by the Turkish leadership to promote Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa as a possible figure to head a transitional administration to end the conflict in the country.
In an interview with Turkish state television TRT Saturday, Davutoglu said that Al-Sharaa was a figure “whose hands are not contaminated in blood” and therefore acceptable to Syrian opposition groups.
It was not clear whether the Turkish stance was coordinated with
other allies, but the candid remarks by Davutoglu suggested some
consensus might be emerging over a future role for him.
He appeared in public in late August for the first time in weeks, ending repeated rumors that he had defected. The regime has suffered a string of prominent defections in recent months, though Assad’s inner circle and military have largely kept their cohesive stance behind him.
Early on in the uprising, the Syrian president delegated to Al-Sharaa, a skilled diplomat, responsibility for holding a dialogue with the opposition. A Sunni from the southern town of Daraa, birthplace of the Syrian uprising, Al-Sharaa’s silence since the start of the uprising made him a prime candidate for rumors that he broke with the regime.
“No one knows the system better than Farouk Al-Sharaa,” said Davutoglu, adding that Al-Sharaa has not been involved in the violence and massacres in Syria.
The Syrian opposition is deeply fragmented, and various factions would likely disagree on whether they would accept him to lead a transitional government.
Meanwhile, there was little sign that the exchange of fire near the border, although still at a fairly low level, was ebbing. It began five days ago when a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town. Turkey’s parliament subsequently approved a bill that would allow cross border military operations there.
Damascus offered a rare apology, but shells and mortar rounds continue to fly into Turkish territory.
On Sunday, an Associated Press journalist witnessed a round landing some 200 meters (yards) inside Turkey, near the border town of Akcakale. A short time later, eight artillery shells could be heard fired from Turkey.
In the Turkish town of Akcakale, mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said shrapnel from the Syrian mortar round caused some damage to a grain depot, but no one was hurt. He confirmed that Turkish artillery immediately returned fire.
The Anadolu Agency reported that Assad’s forces have been shelling the town of Tal Abyad, just across from Akcakale, which is controlled by Syrian rebels.
Turkey’s private Dogan news agency reported that a six-vehicle military convoy, including two carrying howitzers, was seen traveling from the city of Gaziantep toward the Syrian border.
Inside Syria, forces loyal to Assad clashed with rebels across the country, from the northern city of Aleppo to the southern border with Jordan, killing according to activist groups at least 90 people across the country. Activists said opposition fighters were strengthening their hold over the village off Khirbet Al-Jouz, in the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and where violent clashes broke out a day earlier.
The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency said Sunday that the rebels
had regained full control of Khirbet Al-Jouz. It said the Syrian army
was forced to “pull back” following an “offensive” by some 700 rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces pulled out of two villages in the Idlib countryside near Turkey. In Khirbet Al-Jouz, wounded Syrian soldiers were left to fend for themselves after government troops were forced to retreat from the area, the Observatory said.
The reports could not be independently confirmed, and it was not clear whether the wounded soldiers were captured by the rebels.
Fighting Continues in Syria
In Damascus, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of the local police headquarters in central Damascus, killing one member of the military, the state-run SANA news agency said. The explosion is the latest in a series of bombs and suicide attack targeting security personnel and government institutions.
Elsewhere, Syrian troops were widening their offensive to retake rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus, as well as the central province of Homs and villages on the southern border with Jordan.
The Observatory said some of the heaviest fighting Sunday was in Aleppo province. At least three people were killed and scores were wounded when the army pounded the town of Manbaj in Aleppo’s suburbs.
Syria’s defense minister said Saturday that the government is ready to give amnesty to rebels who repent and those who don’t “will be crushed under the feet of our soldiers.”
Gen. Fahd Jassem Al-Freij, who became defense minister in July after his predecessor was assassinated, also claimed that the regime was getting the upper hand. “The most dangerous parts of the conspiracy have been passed and the killing is on its way to decline,” he said.
Damascus denies it is facing a popular uprising, instead blaming the
violence on a foreign conspiracy to punish it for its support for
anti-Israeli groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Syrian mortar strikes continue to agitate Turkey, further confrontation likely
ANKARA, Oct. 8, 2012 (Xinhua) --
Tensions between Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have escalated to a new peak with artillery fire exchange becoming a daily routine over the border line.
On Sunday, Turkey found itself, for the sixth time, in a position to retaliate against a Syrian mortar bomb that fell in the border province of Hatay.
The latest bomb, though inflicting no casualties as it fell on empty land, created uneasiness among local residents as it followed an earlier attack the same day in the border town of Akcakale, where five Turkish civilians were killed by a mortar strike five days ago. It also prompted the closure of Monday's school session in many border towns, including Akcakale.
With new rules of engagement for the Turkish army in place, it has now become a standard operating procedure for the military to respond any attack, deliberate or otherwise, launched by the Syrian forces.
Yet, Turkish analysts worry that continuing the exchange of fire might lead to a war with Syria even though Ankara has made it clear that it has no desire to wage a war against Syria after it received a mandate from the parliament for military operations in Syria following Wednesday's deadly attack.
"We are not interested in war, but we're not far from it either, " Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech delivered in Istanbul on Friday.
"Those who attempt to test Turkey's deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake," he said.
Ahmet Aydin, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party)'s parliamentary deputy chairman, also reiterated the government position on Monday, saying that Turkey does not want a war with Syria.
He noted, however, that "we will not reciprocate to these ( mortar shells) with flower buckets. If it comes to that [war], we will do whatever required to protect Turkey's territorial integrity."
"The possibility for a war might be low for the time being, but no one should ignore the possibility of higher level military tensions. The situation has the capacity to bring forth more serious military clashes, including a war," Gokhan Bacik, Middle East analyst in Gaziantep, said.
Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), also told Xinhua that a new page has opened in Turkey's distressed relations with Syria.
"I think we are closer to a war than ever before. Turkey does not want a war but Syria, fighting for the survival of the regime, is committed to proving that the Syrian conflict may escalate into a region-wide war by pulling Turkey and other countries into the conflict," Erol said.
Erol meanwhile urged the Turkish government to be very vigilant on how to react events unfolding in Syria.
Amanda Paul, policy analyst at Brussels-based the European Policy Center and columnist for Turkish daily Today's Zaman, argued that spreading violence beyond Syria's borders made the Syrian crisis an urgent matter that needs to be dealt earnestly.
"For Turkey, the situation continues to go from bad to worse," she said, adding that Ankara's strategy towards Syria has increasingly backfired on them as the conflict has descended into sectarian warfare.
The Syrian army has been battling the opposition forces in border areas with Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
The Bashar al-Assad government claimed that the mortar shells that landed on neighboring countries' soil were strayed ones. But in response, Turkey said recurrence of mortar attacks against Turkey was not accidental.
In a joint news conference with visiting Iran's Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi last week, Erdogan said there were shells fell on the Turkish soil in the past seven times until a deadly one occurred in Akcakale.
"These attacks can't be accident," he said, suggesting a pattern of deliberate fire by Syria to drag Turkey into a war.
The world's concern over an escalation of the conflict between Ankara and Damascus is also mounting. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday that the tensions along the Turkish-Syrian border have led to worries that the conflict may spread to neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, Ankara has been complaining about the influx of Syrian refugees, which, according to official figures, has neared 100,000. While it is estimated that another 20,000 to 30,000 Syrians are living on their own means without official registry with camps set up by Turkish authorities.
The Turkey government said it has spent more than 300 million U. S. dollars on refugees so far and has asked international organizations and foreign countries to share the financial burden with it.
TURKEY'S NEW PROPOSAL
In an effort to resolve the 18-month-old Syrian crisis, Turkey has over the weekend proposed a transitional government led by Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.
During a TV interview on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu praised al-Sharaa as a man of reason and conscience, saying that nobody in Syria knew the political system better than him.
The opposition is reportedly warm to an interim government in Syria led by al-Sharaa as well.
The Free Syrian Army's (FSA) political advisor Bessam Dade told the Turkish government news agency on Monday that Davutoglu's offer may be the best option to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
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