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July 25, 2012

Fighting Rages in Syria, Turkey Closes Key Crossings

by Henry Ridgwell

ONCUPINAR, Turkey - Fierce fighting continued in Syria on Wednesday. Rebels sent reinforcements to the battered historic city of Aleppo as government forces stepped up attacks with helicopters and machine guns.
 
Activists say rebels set fire to a police station near Aleppo. They also say clashes and heavy shelling have continued in regions including Homs, Hama, Deir el-Zour and the Damascus suburbs as President Bashar al-Assad tries to maintain his grip on power.
 
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 40 people have been killed across Syria on Wednesday.

Watch related video of violence in Aleppo:
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Turkey Closes Border

Neighboring Turkey has closed key border crossings to commercial traffic from Syria but says they remain open for refugees.
 
Ankara says it is taking the measure due to security concerns. Last week, Turkish drivers said their trucks were looted and burned as rebels captured the Syrian side of the Cilvegozu crossing from government forces.
 
Analysts say the closures will affect Syria's economy by hitting cross-border trade.
 
At the Kilis refugee camp near Oncupinar, Syrian refugee Abu Hasan expressed support for Turkey's policy. "I think this is an appropriate decision," he said. "Turkey is making the decision to protect its border as well as to protect us."
 
The Killis camp houses more than 11,000 Syrians.
 
Refugees Increasing
 
The number of refugees is increasing, with most using clandestine smuggling routes over the border.
 
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay says more than 44,000 refugees are now sheltered in Turkey.
 
"There is an expectation that more people may come in," he said. "Therefore, today we have decided to build new camps in several locations including Osmaniye, Kahramanmaras and Nizip."
 
The Arab League has pledged $100 million to help the Syrian refugees.
 
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal says Turkey welcomes donations of equipment, but does not need personnel.
 
"Some of this assistance has arrived, in the sense of material assistance, and we are ready to receive more of the selected items that we have announced," he said. "And our open door policy will continue."

Reducing the U.N. Mission
 
Meanwhile, U.N. observers in Syria say their mission is dwindling.
 
Herve Ladsous, the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, said the Syrian operation continues on a "reduced basis."
 
He told reporters in Damascus on Wednesday that the security situation in many parts of the country is "extremely delicate."

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On Friday, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution renewing the observer mission for up to 30 days. The resolution allows for a pullout if the violence does not stop.
 
Earlier this week, the European Union decided to strengthen its arms embargo against the Syrian regime, blacklist nearly 30 government-associated people and companies, and ban the Syrian national airline from landing in EU countries.
 
On Wednesday, Russia's foreign ministry expressed opposition to the EU sanctions, saying they could be seen as a "blockade" of the country.
 
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.