Syrian refugees flee regime crack­down, stream into Tur­key

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY NURHAN KOCAOGLU AND RUBY RUS­SELL

BOYNUYOGUN, TUR­KEY | Syrian troops ad­vanced closer to the Turk­ish bor­der on June 23, push­ing more refugees into Tur­key and forc­ing lo­cal of­fi­cials to cre­ate a sixth refugee camp to ac­com­mo­date an­other 15,000 home­less Syr­i­ans.

Mean­while, anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers staged a gen­eral strike through­out Syria, in­clud­ing restive south­ern cities and some dis­tricts of the cap­i­tal, Damascus, to protest a speech Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad made on June 20, a hu­man rights ac­tivist said.

In ad­di­tion, the Euro­pean Union an­nounced it would im­pose new sanc­tions against the As­sad regime be­cause of the bru­tal­ity of its crack­down, which Syrian op­po­si­tion ac­tivists say has killed more than 1,400 since March.

Tens of thou­sands of Syrian refugees have crossed into Tur­key over the past few weeks to es­cape the regime’s re­lent­less ef­forts to quash dis­sent in the north­ern re­gion of the coun­try.

“At the mo­ment, we do not need in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance. We have ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol,” said Tekin Ku­cukali, head of the Turk­ish Red Cres­cent, at a press con­fer­ence in Gu­vecci on June 23. “We have the ca­pac­ity to pro­vide aid to 250,000 per­sons if nec­es­sary.”

Mr. Ku­cukali made a point of re­fer­ring to the refugees as “guests” and re­fer­ring to the camps as “tent vil­lages.” “We will be build­ing a fa­cil­ity to watch movies to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tance and play­grounds in this tent vil­lage,” he said.

The camps in south­ern Tur­key’s Hatay prov­ince con­tinue to re­main closed to me­dia and the pub­lic. The Hatay ad­min­is­tra­tion and Red Cres­cent will con­tinue to “shield the Syr­i­ans for their own pro­tec­tion,” Mr. Ku­cukali said.

The Red Cres­cent said if the sit­u­a­tion ex­tends into the win­ter, it will need the as­sis­tance of other aid or­ga­ni­za­tions to pro­vide warmth.

Syrian sol­diers ad­vanced on the bor­der vil­lage of Khir­bet al-Jouz June 23 with tanks, snipers and foot sol­diers, Turk­ish of­fi­cials said.

The ad­vance was the clos­est Syrian forces have come to­ward the bor­der since the mil­i­tary pushed north into the area three weeks ago. The mil­i­tary backed by Syrian se­cu­rity forces moved against the town of Jisr alShughour on June 12.

“The Syrian army took the last moun­tain ridge be­fore the Turk­ish bor­der this morn­ing and are in view­ing dis­tance of the camp,” said Peter Bouck­aert, emer­gen­cies di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch. “Most of the ones I was talk­ing to just a few min­utes ago have fled into Tur­key. Cer­tainly there was a lot of fear, and they fled in a panic this morn­ing.”

Lo­cal Turk­ish Red Cres­cent of­fi­cials said more than 11,000 Syr ians are in the refugee camps, in­clud­ing 600 who ar­rived June 23.

But a spokesman in Ankara told The Wash­ing­ton Times two weeks ago that the num­ber of refugees al­ready was three times that of the pre­ceed­ing week.

Pro­test­ers went on strike through­out Syria on June 23 to protest a re­cent speech in which Mr. As­sad made vague prom­ises about po­lit­i­cal re­forms but ac­cused pro­test­ers of be­ing van­dals, said Am­mar Qurabi, head of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Hu­man Rights in Syria, speak­ing from Cairo.

“To­day the pro­test­ers in­side Syria were called on to strike,” he said. “The se­cu­rity of­fi­cials tried to force peo­ple to open their shops and of­fices, and some did that.

“Still, in gen­eral, all the shops are closed in­clud­ing the main [mar­ket] in Homs,” Mr. Qurabi said. “The peo­ple in Syria were wait­ing for an im­por­tant speech, but un­for­tu­nately [Mr. As­sad] shocked most of the Syrian peo­ple by still talk­ing about the same [things].”

Ruby Rus­sell re­ported from Ber­lin.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Syrian refugees forced north by a crack­down on pro­test­ers pass a Turk­ish mil­i­tar y ve­hi­cle as they cross the bor­der near Gu­vecci, Tur­key, on June 23.

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