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Turkish border police wounded in clashes on Turkey-Syrian border

ANKARA (Reuters) - Five Turkish border guards were wounded in a clash at the Syrian border with an armed group that one Turkish official described as smugglers but an opposition activist suggested may have included rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army.

Turkish media said 10 people, including civilians, were wounded in the clash at Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, opposite Syria's Tel Abyad gate.

Private broadcaster NTV said the Syrians had been waiting to cross at the border gate, and opened fire when they were refused entry.

A Syrian opposition activist said two rebel fighters were killed in the clash, but a Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Syrians were smugglers and the five wounded were guards.

Reuters could not independently verify any of the reports.

Rebels from the Free Syrian Army, a loose collection of army defectors and volunteers battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces, regularly cross from Turkey, where they have been given sanctuary, into Syria to launch attacks on the army.

Smugglers and rebels also cross over to carry supplies like medicine and blankets to fighters inside Syria and to bring back wounded fighters and civilians as well as refugees into Turkey.

Still photographs from Turkey's private Dogan news agency showed smoke rising from the border crossing, with a fire engine at the scene. One photograph showed a wounded man being loaded onto an ambulance. Broadcaster CNN Turk said cars at the crossing were set on fire.

Turkey is now sheltering more than 300,000 Syrians who have fled the fighting in their homeland, most of them in camps along the 900-km (560-mile) frontier, and is struggling to keep up with the flow of new arrivals.

Ankara has denied previous reports that it has stopped entry to Syrians trying to cross into Turkey, saying it operates an open door policy but that at times it need to regulate the flow of refugees across the border.

The U.N. refugee agency criticized Turkey in March for sending home at least 130 Syrians in what some witnesses said were forced evictions following a riot at one refugee camp. Turkey denied it deported the Syrians.

The incident on Thursday was a reminder of the strains faced by neighboring countries as violence from the civil war in Syria, now into its third year, spills across its borders.

In October, five Turkish civilians were killed in Akcakale when a mortar bomb fired from Syria landed on their house, prompting Turkey to fire back across the frontier.

(Reporting by Jonathon Burch in Ankara and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; Editing by Parisa Hafezi and Sonya Hepinstall)

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