'We could not endure anymore,' Aleppo refugee says
Published Wednesday 08/08/2012 (updated) 09/08/2012 18:35
New Syrian refugees look out from their bus as they arrive at a refugee
camp in a Turkish border town on Aug. 6. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)
NEAR AL-DANA, Syria (Reuters) -- A Turkish soldier struggled to control a crowd of Syrians from Aleppo as they crammed through a gate at a border fence, the latest round of refugees fleeing fighting and shelling at home.
"We could not endure anymore. We have been deprived of everything. They have burnt our homes and have deprived us of our livelihood," Ahmad Shaaban, a grocer, said.
Shaaban, who arrived with his family from Salah al-Din, a district inhabited by Arabs and Kurds in Aleppo's southern entrance, said he had been forced to leave Syria's northern commercial hub, 19 miles from the border.
A military campaign to regain control of Aleppo from rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad has prompted a spike in refugee numbers.
Some 2,400 Syrians reached Turkey overnight, the state-run Turkish Anatolian news agency said on Wednesday, adding to the 45,000 who have fled to Turkey since the uprising against Assad started 17 months ago.
Aleppo was the main beneficiary of good relations between the two countries prior to the uprising, after which Turkey asked Assad to step down. Now Syrians, who used to take a taxi or to drive the short distance to Turkey to shop, have turned into distressed refugees.
Cars with Aleppo number plates drive on dirt roads leading to a police position on the Turkish side. They are packed with refugees bringing basic personal belongings such as electric fans and boxes filled with clothes and household items.
Some families brought fresh apricots, for which Aleppo is famous.
Rebel fighters carried a woman on a stretcher suffering from shrapnel wounds. She was given priority and was quickly taken to a Turkish ambulance on the other side.
The refugees, of different social backgrounds, blame Assad for their woes.
"May God burn him and those standing with him. I hope Bashar never finds asylum like us. God gave us (Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip) Erdogan. I just pray no one comes to aid Bashar and lets him escape punishment for what he is doing to us," said Um Abdulrahman, a refugee from Salah al-Din, one of the worst-hit quarters.
"There is shelling, missiles, bombardment from airplanes and tanks. These conditions have made us homeless. They orphaned children, widowed women and killed the elderly. They did everything in their means to hurt us," the housewife said as she sat on a mattress with her children huddled next to her.
Troops loyal to Assad assaulted rebel strongholds in Aleppo on Wednesday in one of their biggest ground attacks since fighters seized chunks of Syria's biggest city three weeks ago.
Another housewife, from the more prosperous Muhafaza district, said: "The regime says they are pursuing terrorists. But why are tanks running over our cars. Why is the army shelling our houses?"
Attacks after sunset
Um Aboud, another refugee, said the shelling intensifies after sunset, when Muslims break their Ramadan fast, echoing what many Syrians say has been a pattern of deliberate provocation against the country's Sunni Muslim majority by the ruling minority Alawite elite, included the shelling of mosques.
"When Muslims gather around their fasting meals Bashar wants to provoke them and spoil their Iftar," the mother of seven children added, referring to the after-sunset meal.
Other women huddled with their children and relatives on mattresses lay under olive trees as the refugees waited to be processed and taken to Turkish camps.
Abu Abdo, who fled from Aleppo's central Bustan al-Qasr quarter, said the worsening humanitarian conditions had forced whole neighborhoods to leave for the safety of Turkey.
"A lot of people are fleeing and the shelling has become much more intense," he said as family members gathered personal belongings, including mattresses from trucks.
As he was talking, a van arrived, packed with a dozen young children and several veiled women from Salah al-Din.
"Bashar is not sparing any part of Aleppo," he said. "His army is not differentiating between old and young, and women or children."