Mon, Jun 20, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Turkey extends aid to refugees across border

STICKING AROUND:Refugees continue to flee to Turkey, though many would prefer to remain in Syria until the last possible moment. However, they no longer have bread

AFP and AP, ANKARA and BOYNUYOGUN REFUGEE CAMP, Turkey

Turkey has begun extending aid across its border with Syria to help people who have massed there fleeing unrest, the emergency situations agency said yesterday.

“Distribution of humanitarian aid has begun to meet the urgent food needs of Syrian citizens waiting on the Syrian side of our border,” the statement said on the agency’s Web site.

It was the first time Turkish authorities had launched a cross-border aid mission after having sheltered more than 10,000 Syrian refugees in tent cities on Turkish territory.

On Saturday, Syrian troops backed by tanks and firing heavy machine guns, swept into a village near the Turkish border, forcing more people displaced by the crackdown on anti-government protesters to flee across the frontier.

The Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents protests, said troops backed by six tanks and several armored personnel carriers entered Bdama on Saturday morning.

The village, about 20km from the Turkish border, had a bakery that was the sole source of bread for about 2,000 displaced people crowded near the border who had hoped not to have to flee to the Turkish tent-city sanctuary. The town was also supplying medicine and other foodstuffs to them.

Without that lifeline, some women and children were already crossing into Turkey on Saturday afternoon.

The three-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule has proved stunningly resilient despite a relentless crackdown by the military, pervasive security forces and pro-regime gunmen.

Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad tries to maintain his grip on power.

Along the border on Saturday, those displaced near Bdama said they were running short of supplies.

“We still have some potatoes, rice and powdered milk, but they will run out soon,” said Jamil Saeb, one of the Syrians who had so far decided to stay in Syria. “This is our first day without bread.”

Saeb said there are children who are sick and there is no medicine. Others are picking apples for lack of other food.

“We are living in catastrophic conditions,” he said.

“We are besieged by the border fence from one side and the Syrian army from the other,” Saeb said by telephone. “We are expecting a humanitarian crisis within hours if Turkey does not send aid to us.”

The British Foreign Office, meanwhile, urged Britons in Syria to leave the country “immediately.” In a statement posted on the Web site of the British embassy in Syria, the Foreign Office said Britons should leave “now by commercial means while these are still operating.”

The statement said those who stay should understand it would be unlikely the British embassy in Damascus could provide a normal consular service if there was a “further breakdown in law and order.”

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal will be sponsoring a draft resolution at the UN Security Council to condemn Syria.

The attack on Bdama occurred a day after Syrian forces swept into Maaret al-Numan, a town on the highway linking Damascus, the capital, with Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. Saturday’s assault on Bdama was about 40km to the west.

Bdama is next to Jisr al-Shughour, a town that was spinning out of government control before the military recaptured it on Sunday last week. Activists had reported fighting in Jisr al-Shughour between loyalist troops and defectors who refused to take part in a continuing crackdown on protesters seeking Assad’s ouster.

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