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Middle east

UN envoy Brahimi in Turkey for talks on Syria tensions

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Latest update : 2012-10-13

Violence raged across Syria on Saturday as special peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Germany's foreign minister held talks with Turkish officials amid rising tensions between Ankara and Damascus over cross-border shelling.

Fighting raged in Syria on Saturday, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Germany's foreign minister held talks with Turkish officials amid tensions between Damascus and Ankara.

Rebels and activists said a Syrian regime warplane was shot down near Aleppo, while part of the embattled northern city's historic Ummayad mosque was set ablaze in fighting as rebels attacks army positions inside, monitors said.

And a car bomb blast near Damascus killed eight people, including a child and two women, in Al-Nabak on the road to Homs province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for reform of the UN Security Council to help resolve the crisis, after Russia and China have repeatedly used their veto powers to block resolutions condemning Syria.

"It's time to change the structure of international institutions, starting with the UN Security Council," Erdogan told reporters, calling for "wider, fairer and more effective representation."

In Istanbul, Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also held talks on Syria with visiting Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, Turkish news agency Anatolia said.

With rebels controlling large swathes of the border area, several incidents of cross-border fire from Syria this month sparked retaliatory shelling by NATO member Turkey and raised concern about potential escalation.

After his meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Davutoglu repeated that Turkey would not tolerate any further border incidents.

"We will hit back without hesitation if we believe Turkey's national security is in danger," he said.

Westerwelle reiterated Germany's support for its NATO ally Turkey while at the same time appealing for restraint.

"We are on Turkey's side but we also call on Turkey to show moderation," he said.

He also backed Turkey in a row over its interception of a Syrian plane from Moscow.

"It was morally justified for the Turks to do that," said Westerwelle, adding that Germany would have done the same thing.

Turkey intercepted a Moscow to Damascus flight on Wednesday, confiscating its cargo.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian Air passenger plane had been carrying radar equipment that could have either civilian or military uses, and insisted that Moscow had violated no laws.

Rebels block army

Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat who is the envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, arrived in Istanbul from talks in Saudi Arabia.

He is due in Tehran on Sunday for talks with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian state television channel's website reported, a day before heading for Baghdad to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The envoy is on a regional tour aimed at finding a solution to the conflict in Syria after Damascus rejected a UN call to implement a unilateral ceasefire.

On the ground, rebels blocked army reinforcements from advancing towards the town of Maaret al-Numan, which has been under rebel control for several days, an AFP journalist in the area said.

In its bid to retake the town, strategically located in the northwest on the road from Damascus to the embattled city of Aleppo, warplanes bombarded it, killing two civilians and destroying three homes.

The rebel Free Syrian Army seized Maaret al-Numan on Tuesday, pushing the army out to two military bases on its outskirts and blocking the arrival of reinforcements to Aleppo.

At least 12 rebels were killed in air strikes south of the town late on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

And rebels shot down a warplane some 10 kilometres (six miles) west of Aleppo where fierce battles were taking place, the Observatory and a defected army officer said.

In Aleppo itself, fierce clashes raged in and around the Umayyad mosque, an AFP journalist said. Rebels entered into the complex by planting an explosive device at the southern entrance, a military source said.

Rebels say the army used the massive mosque complex as a base of operations because of its strategic location.

"The fighting caused a fire to break out in part of the complex," said Syrian Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Elsewhere, rebels seized a base in Deir Foul village near the rebel-held town of Rastan in Homs, said the Observatory, and another base in Atibah in Damascus province.

The Britain-based monitoring group said at least 101 people were killed on Saturday -- 36 civilians, 33 soldiers and 32 rebels.

More than 33,000 people have now been killed since the uprising against Assad's rule erupted in March last year, it added. Hundreds of thousands more have fled their homes.

The UN estimates that more than 2.5 million people have been affected by the fighting. There are more than 348,000 Syrian refugees registered in neighbouring countries, but many more are unregistered.

A new camp for the displaced at Qah near Turkey's border has already reached its 400-person capacity, the Libyan organisation which financed the project said on Saturday, adding that a second camp was to be opened in northwest Syria.

(AFP)

Date created : 2012-10-13

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