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Deadly blast rocks Syria border crossing

Thursday - 2/20/2014, 12:21pm  ET

A lift truck driver offloads aid materials for Syria at the UNHCR warehouses in Dubai, part of the International Humanitarian City (IHC), the largest global stockpile for the UNHCR in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. The UNHCR said it plans to send its aid largest shipment yet to Syria. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

BARBARA SURK
Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) -- A powerful explosion ripped through a Syrian border post Thursday near a refugee camp on the border with Turkey, setting cars ablaze and killing at least five people, Syrian opposition activists and Turkish state media said.

The blast believed to have been caused by a car bomb tore through the Bab al-Salama border crossing, also wounding a large number of people taken to hospitals in the Turkish town of Kilis across the border. Thousands of people have fled from Aleppo through the border crossing in recent weeks because of the government's escalated aerial bombardment there.

The exact number of casualties was not immediately clear.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least five people were killed, adding that the number was likely to be larger due to the number of wounded people in critical condition. Nazeer al-Khatib, an activist in Aleppo, said nine people were killed in the car bombing, citing eyewitnesses in the area. Many others were in critical condition, he said.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency, meanwhile, reported that the explosion killed at least 10 people.

An online video uploaded by activists showed people ferrying casualties, including a young boy, away from the flames as ambulances rushed to the scene. The video appeared genuine and consistent with Associated Press reporting on the incident.

The Bab al-Salama crossing is controlled by rivals of the al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The two sides have engaged in deadly infighting as the al-Qaida splinter group has sought to take over control of the crossing.

Also on Thursday, the relief agency supporting Palestinian refugees resumed food distribution inside the rebel-held district of the Syrian capital that has suffered from crippling shortages of food and medicine for months, a United Nations spokesman said.

The UNRWA announcement comes as Western and Arab nations supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding immediate access across Syria to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid called for a vote on the measure this week, even though diplomats say Russia is opposed to key provisions.

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. agency that administers Palestinian refugee camps around the Middle East, said in a statement that the Syrian government granted access for relief workers to enter Yarmouk on Wednesday after an 11-day halt. He said 280 families received food parcels on Wednesday and that workers are preparing to deliver more food to about 18,000 Yarmouk residents on Thursday.

The Yarmouk refugee camp, located in southern Damascus, is one of the hardest-hit opposition enclaves that have been under tight blockades imposed by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. More than 100 people have died in Yarmouk since mid-2013 as a result of starvation and illnesses exacerbated by hunger or lack of medical aid, according to U.N. figures.

Supporters of the U.N. aid resolution said the document had been put in its final form late Wednesday, with a vote likely on Friday. It is unclear whether Moscow will veto the resolution or abstain from the vote.

Russia is supporting Assad's government in Syria's nearly 3-year-old conflict. The United States and its allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf are backing most of the opposition that is fighting to oust Assad.

The uprising started as peaceful protests against Assad's rule. It gradually turned into civil war that has increasingly been fought along sectarian lines, pitting predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad's government that is dominated by Alawites, a sect in Shiite Islam.

The U.N. refugee agency said Thursday that it plans to send its largest aid shipment yet to Syria, with more than 43 shipping containers full of relief supplies. The shipment from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will travel through the Suez Canal before landing in Tartous, Syria, in about two weeks, UNHCR Senior Logistics officer Soliman Daud said.

He declined to say where the aid would be distributed once in Syria, but said the UNHCR is working with partners on the ground such as the Syrian Red Crescent in the western part of the country.

The shipment which includes jerry cans, sleeping mats, blankets and kitchen utensil sets is intended to help up to 187,500 people inside parts of the war-torn country.

"I'm quite sure the need is bigger than what we will send," Daud told the AP in Dubai.

Also on Thursday, Syrian war planes carried out a series of airstrikes on rebel positions outside the southern city of Quinetra as heavy fighting between government troops and rebels raged in the area, activists said.

The Syrian army has been reinforcing its positions in Quinetra as part of an effort to dislodge rebels from the area that is near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

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Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Yasmine Saker in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


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