Turkish TV: Border wildfires set by Syria

July 5, 2012 at 2:30 AM
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ANTAKYA, Turkey, July 5 (UPI) -- Turkish firefighters battled wildfires along the border with Syria Thursday, that Turkish television alleged Syria started to deny refuge to rebel fighters.

The four windswept fires, which started near the Armenian-populated Syrian border town of Kasab, quickly spread to southern Turkey's Hatay province, Turkish officials said.

Hatay, on the Mediterranean coast, is where 85 Syrian soldiers, including a general and 14 other officers, fled Monday in the largest single-day exodus from Syrian President Bashar Assad's army.

The province is where the armed opposition Free Syrian Army, composed largely of defected Syrian armed forces personnel, has its command and headquarters.

Local fire districts, supported by reinforcements from neighboring provinces, tried to control the fast-growing fires on the ground and by air, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

The weather in the hot, dry province Thursday was sunny with temperatures in the 90s Fahrenheit.

State-run Turkish Radio and Television said the blazes were believed started by Assad regime forces in the hope of stopping Free Syrian Army members in the border area from finding shelter.

At least 35,565 Syrians were recorded as living in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border after fleeing clashes in their country, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate reported Wednesday.

Most refugees are living in Hatay, but others are living in the southern provinces of Sanliurfa, Gaziantep and Kilis, the office said.

The Turkish government is providing the refugees with lodging, food, health services, social activities, education, religious services, translation services and communications, the office said.

Assad told the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet Ankara was now a party to bloodshed in Syria because Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan interfered with internal Damascus affairs and provided logistical support to the rebels.

Erdogan is a leading voice among international leaders calling for Assad to resign, likening him to self-deluded former dictators like Moammar Gadhafi of Libya.

Assad said in the second part of a three-part interview published Wednesday that Erdogan showed himself to be a treacherous and hypocritical leader who has lost all credibility by supporting the Syrian insurgents, who Assad describes as terrorists.

Assad said in the first part of the interview, published Tuesday, he wished his forces had not shot down an unarmed Turkish jet June 22.

He repeated Syria's official position it did not know the identity of the two-seat F-4 Phantom when it brought it down.

Turkish rescue teams aided by the U.S. undersea explorer who found the Titanic located the jet wreckage in the Mediterranean Wednesday, with the bodies of the two pilots trapped inside.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Turkish newspaper Vatan he considered Assad's comments to be "a lie" and said he did not believe Assad had any such regrets.

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