Syria denies having hand in Turkey bombings
Tensions simmer in wake of attacks as Damascus accuses Ankara of stoking conflict
Syrian information minister Omran Zoabi: said Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should “step down as a killer and a butcher”. Photograph: Khaled al-Hariri
Information minister Omran al-Zoubi blamed Turkey “for all that happened in Syria”, implying that Ankara was behind the two-year conflict, and made the unprecedented demand that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “step down as a killer and a butcher”.
His words reflected the position of the Syrian government that Turkey, which turned against President Bashar al-Assad in mid-2011, is to blame for the militarisation of the conflict since it has provided sanctuary for defected army personnel, trained and armed them, and permitted them and foreign fundamentalist fighters to enter Syria from Turkish territory.
This, Mr Zoubi said, has turned border areas into centres for gatherings of international terrorists and the Turkish government is responsible for this development.
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed Syria for the bombings, arguing that it sought to create tensions between Turkish citizens and Syrians granted refuge by Turkey.
Nine Turks have been arrested. Turkish deputy prime minister Besir Atalay said: “The investigation into the perpetrators is for the most part complete. It has been determined that the organisation and its members who carried out the attack were in contact with pro-Syrian regime al-Muhabarat [intelligence]. The organisation is identified and . . . the persons involved . . .”
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued around the strategic Syrian town of Qusair, 10km east of the Lebanese border, where rebels have been holed up for many months. While the Syrian air force has dropped leaflets calling on civilians to depart along a safe corridor, few have done so, reportedly because the rebels are holding them as human shields. Qusair is an important military objective for the army as it sits astride the route for smuggling weapons and fighters into Syria from Lebanon.
Six mortar shells struck the Mezze 86 neighbourhood, inhabited largely by members of the heterodox Shia Alawite community, to which Mr Assad belongs. There were no reports of casualties.
Syrian rebels freed four Filipino UN peacekeepers abducted last week as they patrolled the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, seized in 1967. In March, 21 UN peacekeepers were abducted and held for three days by rebels. The latest incident has prompted the Philippine foreign secretary to say he would recommend withdrawing the Filipino contingent from the force.
About 1,000 peacekeepers, including Indians and Austrians, are deployed in this sensitive area, quiet until last year when shells from both rebel and government forces began to fall across the line.
Following Israel’s missile attacks on the Damascus area a week ago, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a faction backed by Syria, has said it is training fighters for operations against Israeli forces in the Golan front. The government and Lebanon’s Hizbullah said they would support these operations.
The opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 80,000 have died in the conflict since March 2011.