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Turkey closing border crossings with Syria as northern tensions flare

Turkish customs official cites worsening security conditions along Syria’s northern border

A welcome sign at a Syria border crossing. (photo credit: CC-BY Paul Keller, Flickr)
A welcome sign at a Syria border crossing. (photo credit: CC-BY Paul Keller, Flickr)

A Turkish official said Wednesday the country would close a number of crossings with Syria, after rebels said they seized control of several gates along the border.

State-run TRT television quoted Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici as saying Turkey’s 13 border gates along Turkey’s 566-mile (911-kilometer) border with Syria will be closed to trucks as of Wednesday.

Rebels battling the regime of President Bashar Assad made inroads into the country’s north in the last several days, including a hotly contested push into Aleppo, the country’s largest city.

The border closure will stem the flow of vehicles across the long border between the two former allies, harming what commercial ties remained. Refugees, who use smuggling routes to escape battle-torn Syria for Turkey, will likely be unaffected, Reuters reported.

Dozens of Turkish trucks were either looted or torched when the rebels captured the border crossing of Bab al-Hawa last week.

The two countries traded harsh words last month in the wake of the downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian gunners who said it had strayed into their airspace. In response, Turkey and Syria both sent weapons and batteries to their shared border, though commercial trade between the two countries continued, via a number of border crossings.

The closings will  mainly affect the only three gates that have remained open throughout the conflict, Cilvegozu, Oncupinar and Karkamis, an unnamed official told Reuters. An official announcement is expected to come later Wednesday.

Turkey is also concerned about the growing influence of Kurdish groups in northern Syria, who have claimed to be in control of a wide swath of the northern area of the country.

Turkey fears the creation of an autonomous zone for Kurds in Syria could help the separatist group PKK, which Ankara has been battling for decades.

On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Assad’s regime was close to falling.

Erdogan had backed Assad priot to the nearly 18-month old uprising, but has since called for his ouster and for NATO to take military action against Damascus.

 

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