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In Turkish border city, Erdogan's backing of Syrian rebels draws ire

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On Aug. 26, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, Turkey’s main opposition party, accused the government of training Syrian anti-regime fighters, after a delegation from his party was denied access to a Syrian refugee camp along the border.

"I sent our deputies to check out the camp, which was said to be full of agents and spies, but the authorities said you cannot enter this camp,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu told journalists. “Now I expect an answer from the government: ‘What is in that camp? Who are you training in that camp? Are you raising men to spill Muslims’ blood?'"

Ankara denies offering support to the Syrian armed opposition, or allowing it to freely operate from Turkish territory. But when the Monitor visited the Reyhanli border crossing near Antakya yesterday, one rebel commander waiting there said authorities were allowing him to cross into Syria even though he had no passport. And Reuters, quoting Doha-based sources, reported last month that Ankara has set up a secret base near the Syrian border, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to provide military and communications assistance to the rebels.

'Sectarian solidarity'

Meanwhile, tensions are rising in Antakya. Last week, some residents held a protest calling for Syrians to be removed, while Syrian activists told the Monitor they had been called to a meeting with Turkish military and municipal officials and told they would have to leave the city "for their own security." Turkish officials deny such a meeting took place.

“The people of Hatay have lived together for thousands of years without regard for ethnicity or religion,” says Mehmet Ali Edipoglu, a local member of parliament from Mr. Kilicdaroglu’s opposition party. “The fact that attempts for regime change in Syria have turned into a sectarian war is damaging that."

“It’s not the refugees who are coming to Antakya, but the Syrian militants who are being armed by the government to go back into Syria,” he says, describing those living there as "assassins."

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