Turkey closes border with Syria off to trade, not refugees

Turkey closes border with Syria off to trade, not refugees

Turkish soldiers take security measures at Cilvegözü border gate which is located opposite of Syrian commercial crossing point Bab al-Hawa in Reyhanlı in Hatay province July 21, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

July 25, 2012, Wednesday/ 09:45:00/ TODAYSZAMAN.COM WITH WIRES

Speaking to the press in Ankara, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan said Turkey is closing its border with Syria off to commercial traffic in response to worsening security conditions along the border, but that it will keep it open for refugees.

Crossing the border had become increasingly hazardous for truck drivers involved in trade between the two countries. Drivers face the constant risk of being targeted by combatants or caught in the crossfire between the two sides. 

“There were serious concerns regarding Turkish drivers' safety when they cross to the other side of the border. This is why we have taken such precautionary measures,” Çağlayan said.

He added that no one will be allowed to enter Syria from Turkey anymore, but that Syrian refugees will be allowed to enter Turkey in order to escape the fighting in Syria. Wednesday's move will mean the closure of the only three border gates that were still open -- Cilvegözü, Öncüpınar and Karkamış.

The Syrian opposition seized control of several gates on the Syrian side of the frontier in the past few weeks following their 16-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Tensions along the border were fuelled by the shooting down last month of a Turkish military reconnaissance jet by Syrian air defenses. Ankara, which previously had close ties with Damascus, subsequently increased its military presence, sending anti-aircraft missiles to the border and scrambling planes when Syrian aircraft came close to Turkish territory.

Furthermore, a UNHCR spokeswoman confirmed on Wednesday that Turkish authorities have told the UN refugee agency that its borders with Syria, while closed off to commercial traffic, will remain open to Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict.

“We've received assurances that it is staying open. The border is closed for all commercial traffic in both directions, that is what we heard from the Turkish government,” Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said this week that the uprising against Assad was “closer than ever to victory” and warned Turkey will respond firmly to any hostility from Syria. Turkey has called for Assad to quit after he failed to heed calls for reform and the country has harbored Syrian rebels and tens of thousands of refugees along its border with Syria. 

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