Syrian violence touches Turkey, Lebanon

AP , Monday 3 Dec 2012

Increasing concerns Syrian conflict might cause regional war after warplane bombs security building on Turkish border Monday and Lebanese soldiers, Syrian rebels exchange gunfire across the border

Syrian town Ras al-Ain
Syrians run for cover as smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain after an air strike, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa (Photo: Reuters)

Syrian warplanes on Monday bombed a security building that had been taken over by rebels along the Turkish border, wounding at least 11 people and sending dozens of civilians fleeing across the frontier, a Turkish official said.

A day earlier, Lebanese soldiers exchanged fire with Syrian rebels across their border, media reports said, fueling concerns that the Arab Spring's longest and deadliest revolt could draw in neighboring countries and spark a regional war.

The violence came as Russian President Vladimir Putin headed to Turkey for talks likely to be overshadowed by the two countries' differences over Syria.

Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the fighting between rebels and regime troops has spilled into neighboring countries on several occasions, including Turkey, Israel and Lebanon.

An official from the mayor's office in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar said a Syrian jet targeted a security building that has been taken over by the rebels, dropping two bombs on an area some 300 meters (yards) from the Turkish border.

Turkish ambulances rushed to the border and at least 11 wounded Syrians were brought to Ceylanpinar's hospital for treatment, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government policy.

Television footage from Turkey's Anadolu agency showed a large plume of smoke rising over the town, and dozens of Syrian civilians were also seen fleeing into Turkey after crossing through a barbed wire fence at the border.

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said that Lebanese soldiers stationed near the village of Qaa in the Bekaa Valley returned fire into Syria after "armed men" shot at them from across the frontier late Sunday.

The agency quoted a statement from the Lebanese army that said there were no casualties.

During talks with Putin in Istanbul, Turkey is expected to press the Russian leader to stop backing President Bashar Assad's regime. The Kremlin, however, has shown no inclination to relinquish its support for its last Middle East ally, whom it has shielded from international sanctions and continued to provide with weapons amid the escalating civil war.

In Syria, activists reported heavy fighting between rebels and regime troops in the southern suburbs of Damascus as the army presses an offensive to regain lost territory near the capital, including two air bases.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting Monday was concentrated in districts just south of Damascus, including in areas near the airport. The Observatory, which relies on reports from activists on the ground, said there were casualties.

The Damascus suburbs have been opposition strongholds during the 20 months of fighting aimed at toppling Assad. The fighting over the past few weeks in and around Damascus — the seat of Assad's power base — has been the most serious in the capital since July, when rebels captured several neighborhoods before a swift government counteroffensive swept them out.

The SANA state news agency said a car bomb detonated near the Engineering College in Aleppo, wounding four people. The report said "terrorists" — a term the regime uses for rebels — were responsible for the attack in the northern city that has been a major front in the civil war since the summer.

Also on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated President Barack Obama's declaration that Syrian action on chemical weapons was a "red line" for the United States that would prompt action. She didn't address news reports suggesting fresh activity at Syrian chemical weapons depots, but insisted that Washington would address any threat that arises.

Syria is believed to have several hundred ballistic surface-to-surface missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads.

Its arsenal is a particular threat to American allies Turkey and Israel, and Obama singled out the threat posed by the unconventional weapons earlier this year as a potential cause for greater U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war. Up to now, the United States has opposed military intervention or providing arms support to Syria's rebels for fear of further militarizing a conflict.

More than 40,000 people have been killed since the Syrian revolt started in March last year.

While the actions of President Bashar Assad's government have been deplorable, Clinton said chemical weapons would bring them to a new level.

"We have made our views very clear: This is a red line for the United States," Clinton told reporters in Prague.

"I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur."

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