Syrian refugees tell HS that rebels hold villages near Aleppo (ADDED 2.8.)
By Aishi Zidan and Juhani Niiranen
A group of Syrian children stand at the gates of the Kilis refugee camp at the border between Turkey and Syria.
An old woman, Fatima Hussein, has just arrived from the village of Tel Rafaad near Aleppo. She has come to the camp to meet her sister. She still has a home in Syria, although life there has become increasingly difficult.
“There is no bread, no food, and no fuel. The markets are empty”, she says.
The lack of bread would not be so bad, but now Hussein’s husband has also been taken away.
The man, who suffers from heart problems, was taken away 40 days earlier, because his sons had taken part in a demonstration.
“My husband went to Aleppo for a visit. At a checkpoint everyone’s identification papers were examined. My husband was asked if he is the father of our sons. He said yes, and then they took him away”, Hussein says.
She says that she knows what happens to those who are arrested.
“All of those who are released have marks of torture on their bodies. Fingernails are missing.”
The Kilis camp is one of the largest refugee camps that Turkey has set up for refugees from Syria. It is now home to 12,000 Syrians.
The total number of Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey is approaching 50,000, according to the UNHCR.
The number of refugees has doubled in recent months, which is why Turkey is building three new camps. Two others are in the planning.
It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of refugees, as many of them cross the Syrian-Turkish border repeatedly.
Most of them cross the border illegally. Few people can be seen near the border crossing next to the Kilis camp.
One of the refugees to cross to the Syrian side from time to time is Said Hiani, who came from the village of Azzaaz, near Aleppo.
He returned to the Turkish side at night. Hiani keeps going back to Syria to bring food to his 87-year-old father, who is in poor condition ever since he got a shell fragment in hi sneck.
Hiani says that the village is completely empty.
“The whole place is desolated. There are hardly any ordinary people there – just fighters of the Free Syrian Army.”
According to Hiani, the Syrian army has left the village. “Villages near Aleppo have been liberated. There are no more of [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s dogs there.”
Fatima Hussein also says that the Free Syrian Army occupied her village three months ago.
“The soldiers of the Syrian Army can no longer come into the village, so they shoot from airplanes. Last night 15 people in our village were killed in a bombing.
When there is an air raid, Fatima Hussein avoids staying in her house. “I hide under the olive trees”, she says.
Many of those who have left villages near Aleppo say that the roads and the villages are now under rebel control, but in Aleppo itself the fighting is still intense.
Both sides are fighting desperately to control the strategically important Aleppo.
About 200,000 people are said to have fled Aleppo. As the city is located near the Turkish border, Turkey has made preparations for a new wave of refugees.
Most of those leaving Aleppo have gone to nearby villages to stay with relatives and friends.
“About 4,000 refugees have crossed over into Turkey in recent days, which is more than usual. However, it is not as much as we had expected”, says UNHCR representative Carol Batchelor.
In addition, the Syrians know that new refugees will be moved to a camp in Sanliurfa. Camps in which people are housed in tents have a bad reputation. Many say that those who have been sent there have preferred to go back to Syria.
Although the Syrian army has had to withdraw from many of the northern villages, the refugees’ route to Turkey is not completely safe.
Landmines have been placed near the border, and sometimes there are snipers in the area. Some of the Syrian refugees crossing into Turkey have injuries.
A car arrives at the gates of the camp. A short man climbs out. He has a dark beard and thick sunglasses.
Children at the gate start shouting "¬Jeish al-Hor¬ra, Jeish al-Hor¬ra!" – the Free Syrian Army.
The rebel fighters can be identified by their thick beards.
The fighter, who introduces himself as Abu Dujana, has been in Turkey for three days.
“I was getting supplies. I cannot say what kinds of supplies”, he says.
From the camp he leaves for Aleppo, where his military unit is located.
A border crossing is located right next to the camp. The camp is so close to Syria that sometimes bullets from the fighting reach it.
Abu Dumana has three fingertips missing. “I was in prison for five years before the uprising”, he explains.
He does not believe that al-Assad’s forces will ever regain control of Aleppo.
“The Syrian army used to be capable of moving wherever it wanted, from one house to another, and to destroy houses. Now they can only shoot from the air.”
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AISHI ZIDAN / Helsingin Sanomat