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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Turkey warns Syria of stronger response over shelling

Turkey's top military commander has warned Syria that it will respond with greater force if it continues its cross-border shelling.

Five Turkish civilians were killed by Syrian mortar fire last week, prompting Turkey to fire into Syria for the first time since the uprising began.

Meanwhile, the US has confirmed reports it has a military task force in Jordan helping with Syrian refugees there.

The first formal refugee camp within Syria is also reported to have opened.

Meanwhile, activists say that the Syrian government has sent extra troops to Idlib after rebels seized a strategic town there.Cameraman killed

Turkey's armed forces chief of staff, Gen Necdet Ozel, has been visiting the town of Akcakale where two women and three children were killed by Syrian shells last Wednesday.

After touring the town and meeting relatives of those killed, he told reporters: "We have retaliated [for Syrian shelling] and if it continues, we'll respond more strongly."

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the cross-border shelling between Turkey and Syria was "extremely dangerous". He has called on Damascus to declare a ceasefire.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey has no intention of starting a war with Syria but that it will defend its territory.

Within Syria, there are reports of fighting along a main route into the biggest city, Aleppo.

UK-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels have taken control of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, a town on the main highway that links Damascus with Aleppo.
Activists say rebels are now in control of the strategic town of Maaret al-Numan

The Observatory is one of the most prominent organisations documenting and reporting incidents and casualties in the Syrian conflict. The group says its reports are impartial, though its information cannot be independently verified.

Losing Maaret al-Numan would make it difficult for the Syrian army to send reinforcements to Aleppo itself, the organisation says, adding that Syrian army helicopters are now circling the area.

In other developments, a cameraman working for the pro-government TV station al-Ikhbariya has been killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, according to his broadcaster.

Mohammed al-Ashram was "killed by terrorists", director Imad Sara told AFP news agency.

Journalists from the station have been targets in the past. In June, seven journalists and security guards working for the station were killed when gunmen attacked its headquarters south of Damascus.US in Jordan

Meanwhile, a landmark refugee camp within Syria, close to the Turkish border, has been opened amid mounting pressure from the international community for Syria to do more for those displaced by the fighting.

According to AFP, the first families arrived by bus from the nearby village of Atme, where they had been camping out.

The site has been set up with the help of foreign donors, including Libya, the agency reports.

Bordering countries have been struggling to deal with the number of people fleeing the country.

On Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed to the BBC that the US military had a team in Jordan helping it deal with the influx of more than 85,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees.
The international community has urged Syria to do more for those displaced by the fighting

Mr Panetta confirmed a report in the New York Times which said a team of more than 150 American specialists were in Jordan helping to provide humanitarian aid and with preparations for the possibility that the Syrian conflict could spread to the wider region.

Mr Panetta said the US had been working with the Jordanians for some time to help them develop their military and operational capabilities to respond to any eventualities.

He said the advisers would also help ensure the security of chemical and biological warfare sites in Syria.

US President Barack Obama has said the deployment or use of biological weapons would widen the conflict in the region and would represent a "red line" that would change his thinking.

There are also concerns that the Syrian government could lose control of the weapons.

US Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence George Little told the BBC the shelling into Turkey showed there were "various scenarios in which the Assad regime's reprehensible actions could affect our partners in the region".

"For this reason and many others, we are always working on our contingency planning, for which we consult with our friends," he said.

The AFP news agency quoted an unnamed US official as saying the team was based just 55km (35 miles) from the border, the closest US military presence to the Syrian conflict.

In the UK, two people have been arrested at London's Heathrow Airport as part of an investigation into travel to Syria for alleged terrorist activities.

They are said to have flown into the UK from Egypt.

Dozens of people are thought to have travelled from Britain to Syria to fight in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which began 19 months ago.


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