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Turkey closes blitzed border with Syrian ‘no man’s land’
GUVECCI, Turkey — Turkey closed its border with Syria on Wednesday in an attempt to hold back the chaos and lawlessness that has spread along the border, as Syrians flee the intense fighting between rebels and the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Meanwhile, fierce battles raged in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, for the fifth day. Human rights activists said 32 people died in the fighting.
Mr. Assad was hit with more diplomatic defections, as his ambassador in Cyprus and her husband, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, left their posts.
Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border, about 40 miles from Aleppo, reported that they had been targeted by thieves taking advantage of the insecurity in what analysts called a “no man’s land.”
“I can’t do anything. Nobody can help me. There’s no government,” said Dibo Sezer, a Syrian businessman.
He said he was transporting cars into Turkey when his two trucks were burned and his cargo snatched as he crossed the border at the Bab al-Hawa checkpoint.
“We were stopped and asked who we are and where we are going, but we didn’t know if these were rebels, thieves, government soldiers or what,” he said this week while standing next to his charred vehicles.
The border area along Turkey has become increasingly perilous, as regime forces clash with rebel fighters who have gained control of three border crossings during the past week.
“We have serious concerns over the safety of Turkish trucks regarding their entry and return from Syria,” said Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Cagalayan, although he added that refugees still would be allowed into the country.
Border crossings had allowed $3 billion in annual trade between the countries.
Turkish authorities are becoming increasingly concerned that the conflict could spill across the border.
Kurdish parties that oppose Turkey control parts of the north of Syria, and the war zone on the border is expected to heat up further in the coming weeks. Turkey is a NATO member and a major U.S. ally in the region.
“Turkey is finding itself in a very unpleasant and dangerous situation,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
“If the Turkish-Syrian border becomes any more inflamed and if the situation escalates, I doubt very much whether Turkey can really shield itself. The Turkish leadership is very much concerned about terrorism striking at the heart of Turkish cities. That’s really the nightmare scenario for Turkey.”
Since the assassination of key figures in the Assad regime a week ago, fighting has spread from the capital city of Damascus to Aleppo, where regime and opposition forces have clashed during the past several days.
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