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Attacks on Turkey and Lebanon shred Syria peace plan


Syrian troops patrol the streets of Saqba on the outskirts of Damascus Photo: Getty Images

Syrian troops patrol the streets of Saqba on the outskirts of Damascus Photo: Getty Images

Syrian troops patrol the streets of Saqba on the outskirts of Damascus Photo: Getty Images

HOPES that President Bashar al-Assad would abide by today's ceasefire and pull his tanks from towns and villages crumbled last night as Syrian forces killed dozens in fresh assaults on civilian areas, while the bloodshed seeped into neighbouring countries.

The Syrian army fired into Turkey and Lebanon during one of the bloodiest days of violence for months, in which 160 were reported dead across Syria. The unrelenting bombardments further diminished hopes for the peace plan proposed by the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, under which the Syrian government would withdraw its troops from towns by 6am this morning, and cease firing within 48 hours.

Turkey reacted angrily after Syrian forces fired into a Turkish refugee camp in Kilis, wounding two refugees, a Turkish interpreter and a policeman. The Syrian chargé d'affaires in Ankara was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry where officials demanded an explanation. Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister said on state television that the Annan plan was "void at this stage".

In Lebanon, Ali Shabaan, a 32-year-old cameraman for the Beirut-based Al Jadeed TV, was killed when his car was raked by bullets near the border, the channel said. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, who has been careful to stay neutral over the Syrian conflict, released an unusually blunt statement demanding the perpetrators be held to account.

"We deplore and condemn the shooting from the Syrian side on the Lebanese media crew, particularly that this crew was doing its duty inside the Lebanese border area," he said. Ahmed Wehbi, an assistant producer with Al Jadeed TV, said Mr Shabaan, another camera man and a reporter were filming a news report near the border when the Syrian army fired on them at noon yesterday.

"Ali was killed with a bullet to the heart," he told The Independent. "The other two escaped; they tried to pull Ali from the car but they couldn't and they had to crawl away as the bullets came down like rain. We are all in shock."

In Turkey, the incident at the Kilis camp, which can house 10,000 refugees, followed an early morning clash between members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian security forces near the Salama border gate, close to the camp, according to activists. "I think the FSA wanted to control the border gate," said one Syrian refugee.

Some Syrians in the camp stood on top of the its prefabricated buildings shouting "Allahu Akbar! [God is great]" in support of the FSA when the fighting began at around 3.30am, while others sought shelter. Mohammad Abdallah, a Syrian rights campaigner working with the refugees in Turkey, said the Syrian military retaliated to the FSA attack by firing into the camp.

Tension between Turkey and Syria has been intensifying and a day earlier the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had said Turkey "[would] implement steps" if today's UN ceasefire were ignored. Mr Erdogan did not elaborate but Turkish officials said they had drafted contingency plans to set up a "buffer zone" inside Syrian territory, for which troops would be committed.

Meanwhile the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Mouallem, arrived in Moscow for meetings with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, today. Russia is under pressure from the international community to put pressure on its ally to abide by the terms of Annan's peace plan, which Moscow has said it fully supports. The Syrian government threw the plan into disarray on Sunday when it said it wanted written guarantees that insurgents would stop fighting before it pulled back its troops.

Assad has been accused of stepping up his campaign of violence before the ceasefire. Fifty-two of the 160 reported killed yesterday died in the central city of Homs, according to the Local Coordination Committees. At least 31 were killed in Hama and 30 in Aleppo, it added.

The continued violence came as a report by Human Rights Watch accused Syrian forces of carrying out more than 100 summary executions of civilians and opposition fighters since March.