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Clinton travels to Turkey as Syria tensions grip Mideast

The US secretary of state has traveled to Turkey to discuss the Syrian crisis following diplomatic failure at the UN. Syria's civil war is straining an already tense region, with border clashes reported in Jordan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed Syria's civil war with Turkish leaders in Istanbul on Saturday, one day after Syrian and Jordanian forces exchanged gunfire along their border.

Watch video 01:19

Clinton: How to undermine the Syrian regime

Clinton told reporters during a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the US and Turkey should begin joint "operational planning" with regard to Syria.

"We have been closely coordinating over the course of this conflict," Clinton said. "But now we need to get into the real details of such operational planning and it needs to be across both of our governments."

"Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that," she added.

Clinton also announced that Washington would donate an additional $5.5 million (4.47 million euros) to the United Nations refugee agency to help refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria.

Turkey is currently home to more than 50,000 refugees living in camps along the Syrian border.

Former Syrian ally

Turkey was once a close partner of Damascus, but now opposes the Assad regime, which has sought to crush an originally peaceful popular uprising with overwhelming military force.

Watch video 01:23

US and Turkey step-up cooperation on Syria

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after Syrian fighter jets shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane in June. Turkey has joined the Arab League in imposing sanctions and travel bans as well as freezing assets of the Assad regime.

Washington imposed a new round of sanctions against Damascus on Friday, blacklisting Syria's state oil company Sytrol for selling gasoline to its close ally, Iran. Tehran is currently struggling with an EU oil embargo and US sanctions, both of which were imposed over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program.

The US Treasury Department also imposed new sanctions against the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, for its alleged involvement in Syria's civil war. Washington accuses Hezbollah - also an Iranian ally - of providing training, advice and logistical support to the Syrian government.

Jordanian-Syrian border violence

Clinton's visit to Turkey comes amid heightened tensions in the region, as Syria's civil war threatens to spill over its borders and destabilize neighboring countries.

On Friday, Syrian and Jordanian troops exchanged gunfire across their border. Amman claims that Syrian forces fired into Jordan as they pursued a group of some 500 refugees crossing the border. The Jordanian government says its forces then returned fire, with no casualties reported.

Ammanhas granted refuge to Syrians fleeing the violence in their homeland, with some 150,000 refugees escaping to Jordan since March 2011. Syrian activists told German news agency dpa that "dozens" of high-ranking military defectors were among the group crossing into Jordan on Friday.

'End phase has begun'

Meanwhile, the head of Germany's foreign intelligence service, Gerhard Schindler, told the daily Die Welt newspaper on Saturday that President Assad's regime could be nearing its end.

"There are a lot of indications that the end phase of the regime has begun," Schindler said.

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims a RPG as he waits for Syrian Army tanks in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of central Aleppo August 10, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (SYRIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST)

Syria's civil war risks spilling across its borders

He pointed to the thinning ranks of the Syrian military, claiming that Assad's once 320,000-strong army had lost some 50,000 soldiers since the uprising began 17 months ago.

Although Assad's forces have superior firepower, Schindler said, the rebels' mobility was wearing down the regime's conventional forces.

"Because of their small size, they're not a good target for Assad's army," the intelligence chief said. "The regular army is being confronted by a variety of flexible fighters. The recipe of their success is their guerrilla tactics. They're breaking the army's back."

slk/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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