x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Syrian forces kill woman at border crossing into Lebanon

Pope issues statement urging end to bloodshed while shootings at border with Lebanon as hundreds flee Syria leave one women dead and five people injured, including a Lebanese soldier.

Syrians living in Greece march on the capital, Athens, to protest at the Syrian government's ongoing crackdown on demonstrators. Aris Messinis / Topshots / AFP
Syrians living in Greece march on the capital, Athens, to protest at the Syrian government's ongoing crackdown on demonstrators. Aris Messinis / Topshots / AFP

DAMASCUS // The deadly violence in Syria spilled over into Lebanon when a woman was killed yesterday at a border crossing as protests against President Bashar al Assad's regime entered a third month.

Gunfire from Syrian government forces raked a crowd at the Al Boqayah crossing near the town of Wadi Khaled, killing the Syrian woman and wounding five people, including a Lebanese soldier, a Lebanese security official and witnesses said.

The shooting came as hundreds, possibly thousands, of Syrians fled violence in their homeland on foot into Lebanon.

At one point, an armed man in plain clothes waded towards Al Boqayah across the river that marks the border but was turned back by Lebanese civilians and fled firing shots into the air.

The area around Al Boqayah was later deserted, apart from Lebanese soldiers, a Red Cross team and several reporters, a witness at the scene said.

The latest incidents came as Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and urged authorities and citizens to strive for a "future of peace and stability".

"I ask God that there be no further bloodshed in [Syria], this country of great religions and civilisations," the pope said after his weekly Angelus prayer in Rome's St Peter's Square.

Since Saturday, residents of the western Syrian town of Talkalakh, which is encircled by the Syrian army, have fled in their hundreds into nearby northern Lebanon.

According to a witness and a hospital worker in Talkalakh, security forces shot dead at least four people and wounded several others on Saturday as thousands held a second day of anti-regime protests there.

A witness in Talkalakh said that residents had been treating the wounded in a small clinic rather than the town hospital to prevent the casualties from being arrested or "finished off".

Security forces on Saturday fired at a funeral convoy at an entrance to the town, killing the mother and wounding three family members of a victim of the clashes, according to the Talkalakh resident.

Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the regime, said yesterday that armed men had fled the cities of Banias and Homs and sought refuge in Talkalakh, while "fighters" from Lebanon had entered Syria.

Talkalakh was the scene of heavy fighting on Saturday night between the Syrian army and armed groups, the daily said.

The mayor of the Lebanese town of Moqaibleh, Rami Khazaal, estimated that almost 1,000 refugees had fled across the border into northern Lebanon on Saturday alone.

At least five were in hospital with gunshot wounds, one of whom died, a source at Qobbayyateh hospital said.

The latest bloodshed cast a cloud over the government's pledges to forge ahead with reforms in Syria, where the first pro-reform protests broke out on March 15 and have triggered fresh condemnation from western governments.

At least five people were killed in protests on Friday in the central city of Homs and a Damascus suburb, activists said, despite an order from Mr al Assad for security forces not to open fire.

The information minister, Adnan Mahmud, announced later the same day that a "national dialogue" would be launched as soldiers withdrew from flashpoint cities and towns such as Banias, on the Mediterranean coast, and Deraa, in southern Syria.

Meanwhile, an activist in Banias said tanks had been withdrawn from the town centre but security forces were still deployed yesterday.

Up to 850 people have been killed and at least 8,000 arrested since the protests started in mid-March, human rights groups said. The regime has blamed the deadly violence on "armed terrorist gangs" and kept out the foreign media.

An editorial headlined Game Over in the government newspaper Tishrin commented yesterday that it was clear the revolt was losing steam.

"The game is over and those betting on destroying Syria from within have failed without finding a way to sow discord," it said, dismissing the protesters as "suicidal" and "unconscious".