Friday, June 24, 2011

US warns Syrian over troop build-up on Turkish border

Syrian troops backed by tanks entered a border zone sending hundreds of people fleeing into Turkey as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of a possible escalation of the conflict.

Clinton said the troop build-up was "worrisome" as it could increase the chances of a border clash and spell fresh misery for refugees fleeing a crackdown following pro-democracy protests, which hit the 100-day mark on Thursday.

Syrian troops backed by tanks stormed the border village of Khirbet al-Joz, where many of the displaced had massed, an activist at the scene told AFP.

A resident of Guvecci in Turkey said he saw soldiers crossing a hill on the Syrian side less than a kilometre from the border after dawn.

About 600 people broke through barbed wire marking the frontier to seek haven in Turkey, advancing on a road a few kilometres (miles) from the village of Guvecci.

Several hundred more people were seen down the road and the authorities brought in minibuses to ferry the refugees to tent cities set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in Hatay border province.

A Turkish smuggler with relatives on the Syrian side told AFP tanks were on standby at Khirbet al-Joz, but plainclothes police were descending on farms outside the village, 500 metres (yards) from the frontier.

And a Syrian imam who arrived in Guvecci on Thursday told AFP that Syrian soldiers were blocking access to the border.

"The army took control of villages and are blocking roads," the cleric who identified himself as Rami said, adding that he fled with the help of a people smuggler after hearing gunfire.

"We are very concerned by the reports that the Syrian military has surrounded and targeted the village of Khirbet al-Joz, which is located roughly 500 metres from the Turkish border," Clinton told reporters in Washington.

"If true, that aggressive action will only exacerbate the already unstable refugee situation in Syria," she said. (read more)