August 28, 2013 / 11:43 AM / 6 years ago

Turkey sends aid workers trained for chemical attacks to Syria border

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has sent extra aid workers trained to identify and decontaminate chemical weapons victims to its border with Syria after an apparent poison gas attack in Damascus a week ago which may lead to Western military action.

“We have increased our measures significantly since last week, to be prepared particularly in case of a chemical attack,” Mustafa Aydogdu, spokesman for the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), said.

“We have experts who could deal with chemical attacks and we have deployed almost all of them in Kilis, Hatay and Sanliurfa,” he said, naming Turkish border cities that house dozens of refugee camps.

Turkey, which has a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria, hosts half a million refugees from the two-and-a-half year conflict and is braced for a new influx should Western powers strike.

Aydogdu said a number of refugees crossing into Turkey in recent days via Cilvegozu, the nearest border gate to the Syrian city of Aleppo, had burns and were being tested for chemical weapons exposure.

Syria’s opposition coalition said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had dropped phosphorus bombs and napalm on civilians in rural Aleppo on Monday.

“We can’t say at this stage that these burns are due to a chemical attack. We have heard about the use of phosphorus but I can’t confirm as yet that people who have been subject to a chemical attack have crossed into Turkey,” Aydogdu said.

U.N. chemical weapons investigators crossed Syria’s front line into rebel-held territory on Wednesday for a second visit to the scene of the poison gas attack near Damascus.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his European and Middle East allies have blamed Assad for last week’s killing of hundreds of civilians and are drawing up plans for punitive military action.

Turkey has emerged as one of Assad’s most vocal critics and has been a staunch supporter of the rebels. It has spent around $2 billion sheltering refugees, according to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s near two dozen camps are home to about 200,000 refugees, Aydogdu said, while the rest live in rented accommodation in border cities.

He said new capacity was being built. “We can host another 20,000 people in our camp in Viransehir, near the border. There is no capacity problem at this stage.”

Editing by Nick Tattersall and Janet Lawrence

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