Fighting erupts at Syria-Turkey border post


TWO BOMBS exploded in the Damascus suburb of Qudsayya yesterday, reportedly causing many casualties. At the same time, fighting between rebels, government troops and allied Kurds erupted at the Tel Abayed post on the Turkey-Syria border, forcing schools to close and farm work to cease on the Turkish side after stray bullets wounded three Turkish civilians.

Insurgents tore down a Syrian flag from a building at the Turkish crossing, attempting to assert themselves in a region loyal to the the al-Assad regime.

Western border posts have been used by rebels to funnel fighters, weapons, funds and other supplies into the north to sustain and boost the insurgency. If they have full control of the Tal Abayed crossing as they claim, rebels could open up a new front against the army in the north.

In the capital, rebel Free Syrian Army fighters said they had staged a “strategic withdrawal” from the Hajar al-Aswad, al-Assali and Qaddam districts south of the city. The state news agency Sana said the area had been “cleaned of terrorists” while activists said there had been summary executions following the rebels’ pull-out.

A Free Army spokesman in Turkey denied it endorsed a declaration by a Cairo-based group, Free Syrian Army to Protect the Revolution, that a $25 million price had been put on the head of President Bashar al-Assad.

The former head of Syria’s chemical arsenal, Maj Gen Adnan Sillu, who defected three months ago, told the Times of London that Dr Assad had discussed the transfer of chemical weapons to Lebanon’s Hizbullah or their possible use “as a last resort,” such as the loss of Aleppo.

In his authoritative blog Syria Comment, Joshua Landis wrote that Christians and heterodox Shia Alawites were taking refuge in Tartus port which had not yet been embroiled in the 18-month conflict. “Many Tartusis claim that in their town, one can almost pretend that the country is not at war,” he said.

Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi has held talks in Damascus with President Assad on a nine-point peace plan which provides for a ceasefire, regional monitors, the creation of a reconciliation committee, dialogue between the government and opposition and halting external support for the rebels.

His plan has been flatly rejected by the expatriate opposition Syrian National Council which considers the Iranians, who support the government, “partners in crime”.

Amnesty International has accused the Syrian army of carrying out air and artillery bombardments deliberately targeting civilians rather than rebel fighters and military objectives. Amnesty said hundreds of civilians, including children, had been killed and wounded in Aleppo and the north in recent weeks.

Prepared by Donatella Rovera, who visited 26 towns and villages in Idlib and Hama early this month, the briefing paper cites attacks that killed 166 civilians, including 48 children and 20 women, and injured hundreds.

These incidents, Amnesty says, provide “fresh evidence of a pattern” of routine bombing and shelling with battlefield weapons of areas lost to rebels.

“Such weapons should never be used in residential areas,” says the report by Ms Rovera, who gives examples of women and children being struck down in their homes and as they fled from bombing.

Amnesty blames both sides for deploying “armed combatants” and conducting hostilities “in residential areas and urban settlings,” creating “heightened risk for the civilian population . . . of getting caught in the crossfire”.

Amnesty has called on both sides to “take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians” in accordance with international humanitarian law and urges the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.