Turkey, Syria trade fire; border tensions mount

Associated Press Modified: October 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm •  Published: October 7, 2012
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Turkey's private Dogan news agency reported that a six-vehicle military convoy, including two carrying howitzers, was seen traveling from the city of Gaziantep toward the Syrian border.

Inside Syria, forces loyal to Assad clashed with rebels across the country, from the northern city of Aleppo to the southern border with Jordan, killing according to activist groups at least 90 people across the country. Activists said opposition fighters were strengthening their hold over the village off Khirbet al-Jouz, in the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and where violent clashes broke out a day earlier.

The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency said Sunday that the rebels had regained full control of Khirbet al-Jouz. It said the Syrian army was forced to "pull back" following an "offensive" by some 700 rebels.

It also reported that Assad's troops were forced to retreat some 20 kilometers (12 miles) toward the town of Jisr al-Shughour. It said rebels in Khirbet al-Jouz celebrated their victory by firing their weapons into the air.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces pulled out of two villages in the Idlib countryside near Turkey. In Khirbet al-Jouz, wounded Syrian soldiers were left to fend for themselves after government troops were forced to retreat from the area, the Observatory said.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, and it was not clear whether the wounded soldiers were captured by the rebels.

In Damascus, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of the local police headquarters in central Damascus, killing one member of the military, the state-run SANA news agency said. The explosion is the latest in a series of bombs and suicide attack targeting security personnel and government institutions.

Elsewhere, Syrian troops were widening their offensive to retake rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus, as well as the central province of Homs and villages on the southern border with Jordan.

The Observatory said some of the heaviest fighting Sunday was in Aleppo province. At least three people were killed and scores were wounded when the army pounded the town of Manbaj in Aleppo's suburbs.

Syria's defense minister said Saturday that the government is ready to give amnesty to rebels who repent and those who don't "will be crushed under the feet of our soldiers."

Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij, who became defense minister in July after his predecessor was assassinated, also claimed that the regime was getting the upper hand. "The most dangerous parts of the conspiracy have been passed and the killing is on its way to decline," he said.

Damascus denies it is facing a popular uprising, instead blaming the violence on a foreign conspiracy to punish it for its support for anti-Israeli groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Despite the government's claims of being on the brink of restoring stability, the violence across the country shows no signs of abating. Activists say that more than 30,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising began.

___

Karam reported from Beirut. AP writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Jamal Halaby in Amman contributed to this report.



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