Syrians fire over borders at refugees
Journalist, others killed
BEIRUT – Syrian forces opened fire across two tense borders Monday, killing a TV journalist in Lebanon and at least two people in a refugee camp in Turkey on the eve of a deadline for a cease-fire plan that seems all but certain to fail.
Across Syria, activists reported particularly heavy violence with more than 125 people killed in the past two days.
The Obama administration expressed outrage at the violence spilling over the frontiers, saying the Syrian government appeared to have little commitment to the peace plan that was negotiated by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
The latest bloodshed was a sign of how easily Syria’s neighbors could be drawn into a regional conflagration as President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on a year-old uprising becomes increasingly militarized, despite desperate diplomatic efforts.
Annan brokered a deal that was supposed to begin with Syria pulling its troops out of population centers by this morning, with a full cease-fire by both sides within 48 hours. But hopes for the plan collapsed after a fresh wave of violence and new demands by the regime for written guarantees that the opposition will lay down arms first.
Naci Koru, Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, said today’s deadline for the withdrawal has become “void at this stage,” state-run TRT television reported.
On Monday, Syrian forces fired across the border into a refugee camp in Turkey, wounding at least six people, Turkish authorities said. But four witnesses in the camp told the Associated Press two people in the camp also had been shot and killed.
One of the witnesses, Tareq Abdul-Haqq, said he saw two refugees killed in front of him.
He said the two were in a crowd that was shouting anti-Assad slogans during a demonstration that erupted after word got through the camp that rebels had ambushed the Syrian checkpoint.
“They started chanting ‘God is Great!’ and the army and the security forces targeted them,” Abdul-Haqq, 26, told the Associated Press by telephone.
The soldiers were believed to be firing at rebels who tried to escape to the refugee camp after ambushing a Syrian military checkpoint, killing six soldiers, according to the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The troops kept firing as they pursued rebels who made a run for the camp, sending bullets whizzing across the frontier, the Observatory said.
Turkish authorities said four Syrians and two Turks were wounded, including a Turkish translator who had entered the camp to try to calm an anti-Assad protest.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also reported two deaths, but under different circumstances than the witnesses described.
According to the ministry, 21 wounded Syrians were brought to Turkey on Monday, and two of them died soon after. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the two accounts.
“Syrian citizens who have fled the violence by the current Syrian regime are under the full protection of Turkey,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Turkey is sheltering some 24,000 Syrian refugees, including hundreds of army defectors, and has floated the idea of setting up a buffer zone inside Syria if the flow of displaced people across its border becomes overwhelming.
The countries share a 566-mile border, and parts of southern Turkey are informal logistics bases for rebels, who collect food and other supplies and smuggle them to comrades across the border in Syria.
Monday’s shooting was believed to be the first inside Turkey, although there have been similar cross-border attacks into Lebanon.
Syrian troops fired about 40 rounds across the border into northern Lebanon, killing a cameraman for Lebanon’s Al Jadeed television station, the station said. The camera crew were in Lebanese territory.
Ali Shaaban, who was born in 1980, was shot through the chest as he sat in a car and died on the way to the hospital, Lebanese security officials said.
“If you see the car, you would think it was in a war zone,” Shaaban’s colleague, Hussein Khreis, told the station. “It is completely destroyed from the bullets.”
The station said on its website that its staff “crawled for around two hours, during which we were under constant fire from the Syrian army.”
“I ask forgiveness from Ali’s family because I couldn’t do anything for him,” Khreis said in a broadcast on Al Jadeed, breaking into tears.
Shaaban is at least the ninth journalist killed while covering the conflict in Syria.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Syria is now the most dangerous place for journalists in the world.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly deplored the cross-border shootings and reiterated his demand that Syria immediately halt all military action against civilians and fulfill its commitments under Annan’s plan, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
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