While fighting civil war at home, Syria regime warns citizens against travel to Turkey, citing "security conditions"

An image taken from video posted online by Syrian opposition activists shows a man running to join a rescue effort after alleged government air strikes in the Moadamiyeh al-Sham suburb in southern Damascus, Jan. 14, 2013. YouTube

LONDONSyria's civil war-strained government has warned its citizens against traveling to neighboring Turkey, suggesting four days of protests and rioting in the capital makes it too dangerous a destination to visit.

According to the United Nations' conservative estimate, at least 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, which has descended during the last two years into a full-blown civil war fought on largely sectarian lines, and has begun creeping across the country's borders.

In a warning issued by the Syrian Foreign Ministry and published in state media, the government warned Syrians to avoid Turkey, "for fear for their safety, due to the security conditions in some Turkish cities that have deteriorated over the past days and the violence practiced by Erdogan's government against peaceful protesters."

Thousands have taken to the streets in Istanbul for four days in a row, angry over the heavy-handed police response to a small demonstration last week, and angry at the country's leader. The ire in Turkey is focused squarely on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who protesters accuse of writing his own personal conservative Muslim views into the nation's sectarian laws.

The clashes with police have led to dozens of injuries and at least one reported death, but the travel warning from a government accused of using warplanes to indiscriminately bomb civilian neighborhoods in its own territory is more a jab at an old friend-turned-foe than a manifestation of serious concern for the safety of traveling Syrians.

Erdogan has been one of the most vocal critics of Assad since the uprising began in Syria. The Turkish government is supporting rebel groups fighting inside Syria, and many high-level Syrian defectors have been given refuge across the border in Turkey.

The most dangerous places in Turkey right now may well be the towns and villages closest to the border with Syria, in fact. In mid-May, two car bombs tore through the Turkish border town of Reyhanli -- which has become a hub for Syrian rebels and opposition members -- killing 46 people, most of them Turkish. Turkey's government arrested nine people and quickly linked them to the Syrian government. It was the most significant cross-border attack to hit Turkey since the war broke out in neighboring Syria.

CBS
  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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