YAYLADAGI, Turkey (AP) — Turkish firefighters were battling several blazes along the Turkish-Syria border on Wednesday in areas that thousands of Syrians have crossed to flee the fighting in their country.
Mehmet Harbi, a forestry official, claimed the fires were “deliberately started” at four different points on the Syrian side of the border and spread to Turkey due to strong winds. Turkey’s state-run TRT television said Syrian forces are believed to have started the fires to deny shelter to rebels along the border area. Harbi and TRT provided no evidence to substantiate their claims.
More than 35,000 Syrians are living in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border that were opened to care for the many people fleeing Syria’s unrest. Sporadic clashes between Syrian forces and activists also have occurred on the Syrian side of the border.
The uprising began in March 2011, and Syrian activists say it has killed about 14,000 people.
A Turkish helicopter also was fighting Wednesday’s blazes, and an Associated Press reporter in the border town of Yayladagi said loudspeakers were used to call all males between the ages of 15 and 55 to help fight the fires.
In another development Wednesday, Turkey’s military said the bodies of two pilots whose jet was shot down by Syria were found in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. State-run TRT television said a U.S. deep-sea exploration vessel, E/V Nautilus, discovered the bodies on Wednesday.
Syrian forces shot down the RF-4 plane on June 22. Turkey says it was hit in international airspace, while Syria insists it had flown inside Syrian airspace.
Syria did not offer an apology, and the downing of the plane has worsened already tense Turkish-Syrian relations.