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Syria crisis enters 'new phase' after Assad ignores UN deadline

Turkey is likely to stir international leaders to stronger action after two Turkish officials were injured by cross-border gunfire. Envoy Kofi Annan said it was too early to say the UN cease-fire had failed.

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Lavrov suggested that it was the opposition that had rejected the peace plan. In recent days, Syria said it would only accept Annan's conditions if it received written guarantees from the opposition not to take advantage of any military withdrawal from urban areas.

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The Syria government has thwarted a number of other efforts to curb the violence, saying that anti-regime protesters are "armed groups" and "terrorists" who must be put down by force. The asymmetric balance of power could not have been more evident in recent weeks, as armored columns of Syrian tanks and artillery blasted city after city, from Homs to Idlib to Deraa, to rid them of activist fighters armed with assault rifles and grenades. 

Turkey today vowed to take "necessary measures" in response to yesterday's Syrian shooting into the refugee camp at Kilis, a former Turkish customs post just 500 yards from the border, which wounded a Turkish policeman and translator, and two Syrian refugees.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the firing a "clear violation of the border," while on an official trip to China, one of Syria's main backers on the Security Council.

'An act of provocation'

Turkish media today described the government "finalizing" plans for possible humanitarian corridors or a buffer zone "to contain the burgeoning refugee crisis and border skirmishes." Already more than 24,000 refugees have fled to Turkey, some 3,000 of them last week as Syrian forces advanced into anti-regime strongholds in the northwest.

"Turkey has set a threshold of 100,000 refugees," says Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

The cross-border shooting was "an act of provocation," says Prof. Ozel. "What the Syrian regime's plan is I don't know, but it's certainly squeezing Turkey."

Turkey has imposed an economic embargo, withdrawn its ambassador from Damascus, and – despite Mr. Erdogan's close relationship to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad until last year – hosts Syrian opposition activists and even the nominal head of the lightly armed ad hoc Free Syrian Army.

"I don't see what other leverage we have on them, other than establishing a secure zone, which would require military protection," says Ozel.

Hosting refugees "is also becoming very costly for Turkey, $150 million up until now, and with the current flow this is going to increase," adds Ozel. "There is a massive verbal escalation, but I really don't think [Turkey] would act unilaterally."

Still, the Turkish Foreign Ministry was scathing in its criticism after yesterday's shooting incident. Syrians seeking refuge "because of the current regime's aggression are under total security and protection of Turkey," it said in a statement on Monday.

It stated that "the Syrian regime's attack on the people" had moved to border areas, and that 21 wounded Syrians fled to Turkey on Monday, with two dying shortly thereafter.

"It is a fact that the Syrian regime is abusing the international community's well-intentioned efforts," the Turkish statement said.

Correspondent Alexander Christie-Miller also contributed reporting from eastern Turkey.

 

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