Six killed as smuggled ammunition explodes on Turkey-Syria border

ANKARA Tue Sep 3, 2013 1:24pm EDT

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ANKARA (Reuters) - A consignment of live ammunition exploded as it was being smuggled into Turkey, killing six people on the border with Syria on Tuesday, the provincial governor's office said.

The ammunition mixed with scrap metal was being taken into Turkey's Hatay province from Syria, the governor's office said in a statement. Five Syrians died at the scene and one Turk died later of his wounds.

The incident on Turkey's long Syria frontier, where tensions have been on the rise in recent months, comes after a string of almost daily confrontations between Turkish soldiers and groups of smugglers in the area.

With its hilly terrain and thick vegetation, Hatay, a panhandle province that juts down into Syria, makes a relatively easy crossing point for smugglers, as well as Syrian rebels and refugees fleeing the fighting.

Turkey has emerged as one of the strongest backers of the Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, giving them shelter on its soil, but denies arming them. Around half a million refugees have also taken shelter inside Turkey.

Smuggling has long been a part of life in Turkey's border regions, but recently the illicit trade in goods including fuel and basic commodities has also provided a financial lifeline for the embattled rebels inside Syria.

Ankara has become increasingly concerned about the fallout of the civil war and has moved to tighten security along the frontier.

In the worst example of the spillover of violence into Turkey, 52 people were killed when twin car bombs ripped through the border town of Reyhanli, also in Hatay, in May.

Turkey has accused Syria of involvement in the attacks, but Damascus has denied any role.

Several Turkish citizens have been killed since then by stray bullets fired from the Syrian side.

(Reporting by Jonathon Burch, Seda Sezer and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Heavens)

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