World Bulletin/News Desk
Five Turkish border guards were wounded in a clash at the Syrian border with an armed group that one Turkish official described as smugglers but an opposition activist suggested may have included rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army.
One police officer was seriously wounded and later died at a hospital with 12 injured others including a soldier, in the clash at Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, opposite Syria's Tel Abyad gate.
Private broadcaster NTV said the Syrians had been waiting to cross at the border gate, and opened fire when they were refused entry.
Tight security measures were taken at Akcakale border gate in Turkey's southeastern province of Sanliurfa due to the stampede between Syrian shelter-seekers and Turkish security forces.
Security forces roped in the border gate and surrounding area, and ambulances were kept ready following the incident.
A Syrian opposition activist said two rebel fighters were killed in the clash, but a Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Syrians were smugglers and the five wounded were guards.
Rebels from the Free Syrian Army, a loose collection of army defectors and volunteers battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces, regularly cross from Turkey, where they have been given sanctuary, into Syria to launch attacks on the army.
Smugglers and rebels also cross over to carry supplies like medicine and blankets to fighters inside Syria and to bring back wounded fighters and civilians as well as refugees into Turkey.
Still photographs from Turkey's private Dogan news agency showed smoke rising from the border crossing, with a fire engine at the scene. One photograph showed a wounded man being loaded onto an ambulance. Broadcaster CNN Turk said cars at the crossing were set on fire.
Abdulhakim Ayhan, Mayor of Akcakale, said, "Approximately 1,000 Syrians attempted to enter Turkey through the Akcakale border gate without passports and our security forces prevented their entry. After our police repelled them, they stoned our border gate. Then, they set our sheds at the buffer zone on fire. We put out the fire and backed away thinking the attacks were over. It was after we went back to the administrative building when we realized they began firing guns randomly. The worst of all is that one of our policemen was seriously injured and taken to Sanliurfa hospital. The situation is settled down now, however, apprehension dominates the region," in regards to the incident.
Meanwhile, all humanitarian assistance materials on way to Syria are now waiting on the Turkish side of the border after today's stampede.
Turkey is now sheltering more than 300,000 Syrians who have fled the fighting in their homeland, most of them in camps along the 900-km (560-mile) frontier, and is struggling to keep up with the flow of new arrivals.
Ankara has denied previous reports that it has stopped entry to Syrians trying to cross into Turkey, saying it operates an open door policy but that at times it need to regulate the flow of refugees across the border.
The U.N. refugee agency criticised Turkey in March for sending home at least 130 Syrians in what some witnesses said were forced evictions following a riot at one refugee camp. Turkey denied it deported the Syrians.
The incident on Thursday was a reminder of the strains faced by neighbouring countries as violence from the civil war in Syria, now into its third year, spills across its borders.
In October, five Turkish civilians were killed in Akcakale when a mortar bomb fired from Syria landed on their house, prompting Turkey to fire back across the frontier.