May 5, 2014 - 15:43 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Turkey has started building a new wall along a fragment of its southeastern border with Syria as it struggles against smuggling, illegal migration and the threat from al Qaeda fighters among Syria's rebel ranks, Reuters reported.
Slabs of concrete have sprung up in recent days, snaking for just over one kilometer over the rolling hills of Hatay province, a finger of land which was part of Syria until the late 1930s, dotted with villages that have thrived on an illicit cross-border trade in everything from fuel to cigarettes.
Turkey has kept an open-border policy throughout Syria's three-year civil war and has vowed to maintain it, providing a lifeline to rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad by allowing supplies in and refugees out. But the policy has had its costs. Smuggling has thrived, and a growing number of Syrians forced by the war to eke out a living where they can, swell the ranks of those trying to cross back and forth outside the official border posts, Reuters notes.
That has compounded the challenge of securing the 900-km (560-mile) border for Turkey's authorities, already accused of doing too little to stop foreign jihadists from entering Syria and posing an even bigger risk to the wider region.
Car bombs in the Turkish town of Reyhanli killed dozens almost a year ago and there has been more violence since then. The International Crisis Group estimates that more than 75 Turkish citizens have been killed in fighting that has spilled over the frontier.
"Turks are reminded of the security risks by deadly car bombs and armed incidents on their territory, especially as northern Syria remains an unpredictable no-man's land," the think-tank said in a report.
"The conflict was not of its making, but Ankara has in effect become a party," it said.
A local customs official said the wall would be extended to 8 kilometers, although he added: "The total border is 900 kilometers so we're not sure about the effectiveness of the wall."