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Turkey arrests almost 500 people trying to cross from Syria

Efforts by the Turkish army to secure its border has led to the arrest of hundreds of people attempting to leave Syria
A Syrian woman holding her baby walks at a refugee camp in Suruc district of Sanliurfa on 14 July 2015 (AA)

Almost 500 people attempting to cross the border from Syria were detained by Turkish security forces over the weekend, the Turkish army said. 

The arrests come weeks after the Turkish army arrested nearly 800 people trying to cross into Turkey from Syria on 7 July. Among the 768 people arrested were three suspected fighters from the Islamic State group, the army said.

In a statement posted on its website on Sunday, the Turkish army said that a much smaller number trying to cross into Syria from Turkey were also arrested, but did not reveal their nationalities.

The army announced that: “[On Saturday] 488 people were detained by the land forces command border units while trying to cross in Turkey from Syria and 26 while attempting to cross into Syria from Turkey."

Since the conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, Turkey has become the largest recipient of Syrian refugees, boasting of its “open-door policy” that led it to host 1.8 million Syrians, who must pass through checkpoints and be documented for official records.

However, Turkey has come under fire for failing to secure its 911 kilometre border it shares with Syria, as militants from across the world have taken advantage of the lax border security to join armed groups in Syria, such as the Islamic State.

Turkish authorities have previously stated that they are making every effort to secure the long border, but they insist that no tangible results can be obtained unless Western states share more intelligence about would-be militants. 

In an apparent show of increased efforts to stop foreign fighters from crossing into Syria and joining IS and other militant groups, Turkey in the past few months has cracked down on dozens of foreigners en route to Syria. In April alone, authorities arrested potential fighters from China, Switzerland, Kosovo, Russia and Tajikistan, the government said. 

Turkey has also beefed up its military presence on the border in recent weeks, deploying tanks and anti-aircraft missiles there as well as additional troops.

The latest Turkish build-up follows the advance of Syrian Kurdish forces who have made gains against militants in northern Syria near the border.