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A Turkish soldier standing guard is seen from the Syrian town of Khirbet Al-Joz at the Turkish-Syrian border, in Latakia countryside, where internally displaced Syrian people are waiting to get permission to cross into Turkey, February 7, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

(reuters_tickers)

By Dasha Afanasieva

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish border guards have beaten and shot Syrians trying to reach Turkey, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday, as fighting in the border province of Aleppo intensifies threatening to force more people to flee.

HRW said in a report based on interviews with victims, witnesses and Syrian locals that in March and April 2016, five people, including a child were killed and 14 were seriously injured as a result of border guards' shootings and beatings.

In response to the report, a senior Turkish presidency official said the authenticity of the video could not be verified. Reuters was not able to verify the report.

A video released by HRW purporting to show the victims of the beatings and shootings depicted a bloodied body with bandages around his exposed torso. Another male corpse is shown with red and purple marks all over his back and arms.

A recent surge in fighting in Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, wrecked a 10-week-old partial truce sponsored by Washington and Moscow that had allowed U.N.-brokered peace talks to convene in Geneva.

Ankara says it keeps an "open door" policy for those fleeing the five-year conflict. For over a year, only those requiring emergency medical treatment not available on the Syrian side have been able to cross legally while others rely on expensive smugglers to guide them on the dangerous route.

Tens of thousands are instead interned in camps on the Syrian side, a version of the "safe zone" policy long championed by Turkey, but one which is not internationally sanctioned or recognised.

"Turkey admits refugees at designated points of entry if and when there is an imminent threat to civilian lives across the border," the official said.

HEAVY PRICE

HRW published excerpts of interviews with four victims, five witnesses, and six local Syrian residents who described seven occasions in March and April in which Turkish border guards shot or assaulted 17 Syrian asylum seekers and two smugglers.

Footage of some of the victims and bodies was taken by a security guard of a local internally displaced people camp, HRW said.

In its press release, the rights group recognises Turkey's right to protect its border, which includes the border town of Kilis increasingly targeted by rocket fire from Islamic State areas in recent weeks, but says it must respect international norms on use of lethal force as well as the right to life.

Earlier this year, Turkey and Europe agreed on a plan to send back migrants and asylum seekers to Turkey from the Greek Islands, with Brussels committing six billion euros to help support refugees in Turkey.

The legality of the deal, aimed to stem the flow of migrants to European shores, hinges on Turkey being a safe country of asylum, which rights groups and NGOs have said was not the case.

Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at HRW said:

"EU officials should recognise that their red light for refugees to enter the EU gives Turkey a green light to close its border, exacting a heavy price on war-ravaged asylum seekers with nowhere else to go."

(Editing by Ece Toksabay and Ralph Boulton)

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