Truce under threat: Clashes near Syrian border with Turkey

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Syrian troops are reportedly clashing with rebels near the border with Turkey in what appear to be the first serious violation of the ceasefire introduced just a day ago. It comes as Damascus and Ankara traded accusations and threats of war.

­The clashes are taking place on the outskirts of the northwestern village of Khirbel el-Joz that borders Turkey, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group also says the Syrian army deployed tanks in the area before the clash.

The report comes just a day after the UN-brokered ceasefire was implemented as a step towards bringing the government and rebel groups to the negotiating table. The truce remains shaky at best. Damascus complained that while the opposition failed to provide any written guarantees they will uphold their part of the bargain, even though the opposition refuses to do so.

Nevertheless, the Syrian army put on hold a crackdown on armed rebels on Thursday. During the day the country saw sporadic outbursts of violence, with the spokesperson for UN envoy Kofi Annan calling the ceasefire “relatively respected” on Friday.

The advance team of UN observers is “standing by to board planes and get themselves on the ground as soon as possible,” Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news conference. The team is waiting for a UN Security Council go-ahead, which may come later on Friday.

The full UN mission is to include 250 monitors. It will be deployed “if the cease-fire holds and it turns into a genuine cessation of hostilities,” Fawzi said.

­Cross-border blame game

­Meanwhile Damascus’ spat with Ankara over a cross-border raid by Syrian troops reached a new height on Friday, when the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused Turkey of plotting against his country.

Turkey has a strategy to shelter “terrorist groups that enter Syrian territories, attack civilians and destroy the infrastructure,” Muallem said in a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He said Turkey was harboring terrorist and turning a blind eye to the attacks they launch across the border to “terrorize civilians at the borders and force them to flee into Turkey so as to create a refugees’ crisis and then request human corridors and a buffer zone be implemented.”

The accusations came in response to Turkey accusing Syria of violating its sovereignty by opening fire across the border at a refugee camp. The Monday shootout left two Syrian nationals dead and some two dozen people wounded, including a Turkish aid worker.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened that as a member of NATO Turkey would request military help from other members of the alliance.

There are estimated 24,000 Syrian refugees living in camps in Turkey. Some observers say the camps are used by many armed opposition members to take rest, receive medical treatment and re-arm before returning to Syria to fight against the government.

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