Turkey shuts border, battle rages for Qusair | News | DW | 22.05.2013
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Turkey shuts border, battle rages for Qusair

Turkey has shut its last border crossing near forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria's opposition has urged rebels to reinforce the town of Qusair near Lebanon as Assad's forces press a four-day assault.

Turkey dealt with tensions along its 900-kilometer border with Syria on Wednesday by shutting its last crossing leading to Syria's northwestern Latakia region. It has a large population of Alawites, a minority to which President Assad belongs.

Turkish Customs Minister Hayat Yazici said the Yayladagi crossing would remain closed for a month, reportedly while advance security equipment is installed.

The crossing lies 90 kilometers (55 miles) from Turkey's southern Hatay province town of Reyhanli where twin car bombs killed 51 people on May 11.

The Yayladagi gate is the only crossing still controlled on the Syrian side by Assad's forces. All other crossings are in the hands of rebels fighting to overthrow him.

The Hatay provincial government also said on Wednesday that six Turkish citizens had been detained on suspicions of plotting to attack and kidnap Syrian refugees inside Turkey.

About 200,000 Syrian refugees shelter in 17 camps along Turkey's border with Syria.

Warning from Kerry in Amman

Visiting Jordan's capital Amman on Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said recent military gains by Assad's forces were only temporary. His remarks came as Syria's military pressed its assault on Qusair with help from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia based in Lebanon.

Qusair, a Syrian town near Lebanon, straddles supply routes seen as important for both Assad and rebel forces.

George Sabra, the acting head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition also issued a statement, urging rebels to join the fight to "rescue" Qusair where opposition fighters face government artillery and air strikes.

Kerry said Western governments were considering "growing support" for Syria's opposition to help "them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country."

His visit preceded a meeting of the Friends of Syria group of nations – mainly Western and Arab opponents of Assad – being convened to make plans for a proposed US-Russian peace conference on Syria due in Geneva next month.

Also in Amman, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the conference only had a chance for success if Assad turned over power to a transitional government.

Kerry said the involvement of "several thousand" Hezbollah fighters in the battle for Qusair "simply exacerbates the sectarian tensions."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group on Wednesday said at least 83 rebels, nine Syrian soldiers and at least 31 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the struggle Qusair since Sunday. In recent days, Hezbollah has held several funerals (pictured above) in Lebanon for its fighters who died in Qusair.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad, saying Russia welcomed the Assad government's "constructive reaction" to the proposal to hold an international conference. For years, Russia has been an ally of the Assad government.

ipj/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP)