Turkey closes border to Syria

ANKARA – Turkey has closed one of its border gates to Syria after an al Qaeda-affiliated rebel group clashed with units of the Arab- and Western-backed Free Syrian Army in the Syrian town of Azaz near the Turkish frontier, a Turkish official said on Thursday.

“The Oncupinar border gate has been closed for security reasons as there is still confusion about what is happening on the Syrian side. All humanitarian assistance that normally goes through the gate has ceased,” the official told Reuters.

While Turkey says it normally operates an open door policy, allowing Syrian refugees to cross freely into its territory, from time to time it temporarily closes its border crossings following clashes near its frontier.

The Oncupinar crossing in Turkey’s Kilis province sits opposite the Syrian Bab al-Salameh gate, and around 5 km (3 miles) from Azaz. The official said he was not aware of any clashes at the crossing itself, which fell into rebel hands last year.

The clashes in Azaz had now stopped and mediation efforts appeared to be under way, he said.

The emergence of al Qaeda-linked fighters along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria, within striking distance of Turkish territory, is a nightmare scenario for Ankara.

Turkey has been one of the strongest backers of the Syrian rebels, giving them shelter on its soil. It denies arming them, but fighters including militant Islamists have been able to cross its porous border into Syria.

Turkey says it does not favor any particular group in the opposition and has strongly denied accusations it has directly assisted more radical elements, especially in their fight against Kurdish rebels on Syria’s northeastern border.

Violence has repeatedly spilled over the border.

Fifty-two people were killed when twin car bombs ripped through the Turkish border town of Reyhanli in the southern province of Hatay on May 11, three months after a similar blast killed more than a dozen at the border gate.

Turkey accused Syria of involvement in the May bombings, a charge Damascus denies, but others said the attacks could have been the work of one of the rebel factions, which include the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. (Reuters)

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