Turkey to close border with Syria to all traffic

ISTANBUL Wed Jul 25, 2012 2:22am EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - All Turkey's border gates with Syria are to be closed from Wednesday, an official from the Turkish Customs and Trade Ministry told Reuters, in response to worsening security conditions.

Syrian rebels seized control of several gates on the Syrian side of the frontier over the last week in their 16-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The closure will halt the passage of vehicles between Turkey and Syria. Refugees from Syria, who have been fleeing into Turkey in their thousands to escape the conflict, cross the border through smuggling routes.

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.

Wednesday's move will close the only three border gates that were still open, at Cilvegozu, Oncupinar and Karkamis, the unnamed official said.

The official said Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici would make an announcement on the decision at 0800 GMT.

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

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said this week 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.

(Reporting by Ozge Ozbilgin; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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