Thousands of Syrians flee after bombing by Assad's warplanes


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The Independent Online

Thousands of Syrians headed toward Turkey on Monday after President Bashar al-Assad's air force attacked populated areas near the border, Arabic and Turkish media reported.

The strikes on a refugee camp brought retaliatory fire from Turkish anti-aircraft gunners, Al Arabiya television said, while the Turkish Anatolia news agency said several people were killed and injured during an air attack on the town of Atma. Al Jazeera television said Turkish officials were preventing the refugees leaving their country.

Syrian warplanes could be seen flying close to the border, according to two customs officials interviewed by phone at the Cilvegozu border point in Turkey's Hatay province.

Turkey has asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to deploy Patriot missile batteries on the border and an alliance delegation begins inspections tomorrow to determine sites. Tension between the two countries, which staged joint military exercises in 2009, soared this year after a Turkish jet was shot down by Syria in June and when a mortar round killed five Turks near the border last month.

The Red Cross said Monday that it's alarmed by the way the Syrian civil conflict is being fought and appealed to the combatants to fully comply with humanitarian rules.

International law states that attacks may only be directed at "military objectives and not against civilians, or against civilian objects such as homes, schools, medical facilities and vehicles, community shelters or places of worship," Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in the statement. He said the humanitarian situation is getting worse by the day.

Monday's attack along the Turkish border followed the seizure by rebels of a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates river, according to a video posted by the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Aleppo. That marked the latest in a series of attacks by rebels against Assad's strategic installations, including pipelines and air bases, as they expand their 20-month campaign. The fighting has killed more than 40,000 people, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Tishrin Dam, which generates 630 megawatts of power, had been the scene of fierce fighting since at least Nov. 22, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. The YouTube video shows rebels roaming around the plant, claiming the structure has returned to the Syrian people and is no longer in the hands of Assad's "gangs."

The authenticity of the video couldn't be independently verified by Bloomberg, and the Ministry of Electricity couldn't be reached for comment today.

Fighters destroyed tanks, radar systems and helicopters at the Marj al-Sultan military airport east of Damascus, according to unverified footage posted on the Syrian Observatory's Facebook page yesterday.

Assad's forces killed more than 100 people Sunday, including 24 in Damascus, the Observatory said.

Turkey's military said Monday that the Patriot missile deployment is solely aimed at the threat from Syria and won't be used to enforce a "no-fly zone" or to launch attacks. Iran and Russia have expressed concern that deployment of missiles could fuel regional tensions.