x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Envoy tasked with ending Syria conflict cheered and jeered

Mixed reception at Turkish and Jordanian refugee camps.

AMMAN // The new international envoy tasked with ending the 18-month conflict in Syria visited refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey yesterday, saying that he hoped the Syrians would find peace soon.

But in Jordan, some refugees protested against his visit - an indication of widespread scepticism that the mission Lakhdar Brahimi himself has called "nearly impossible" would bring results.

About 200 refugees at the Zaatari desert camp chanted, "Leave our camp. By seeing Bashar, you've extended his life", referring to Mr Brahimi's earlier meetings with the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad.

Mr Brahimi also toured a camp in the Turkish border province of Hatay. Dozens of Syrian refugees demonstrated, waving a rebel flag and denouncing Mr Al Assad.

Activists estimate that 23,000 people have been killed in the crisis.

The United Nations has said more than 250,000 people have become refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. About 83,000 refugees have found shelter in 12 camps along the Turkish border.

Mr Brahimi said refugees appeared to be treated well in Turkey. "We hope their country finds peace again and they can return to their country as early as possible."

Also yesterday, Turkey's foreign ministry brushed off Syrian accusations that it was allowing thousands of Muslim extremists to cross into its territory.

A spokesman, Selcuk Unal, said Turkey may not even respond to letters Syria sent to the UN Security Council and its Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, accusing it of granting terrorists access to the country.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said yesterday that any intervention in Syria would only be possible with the full backing of the US. "It would require intervention on a vastly greater scale than was the case in Libya, with no prospect at the moment of agreement at the UN Security Council, and would require the full involvement of the United States."

Syrian rebels yesterday battled government forces along the Turkish border in a bid to seize a border crossing. Fighting raged between Syrian troops and rebels close to the Tel Abyad border gate, and stray bullets hit houses in the town of Akcakale on the Turkish side.

Syrian troops also shelled several districts in Aleppo yesterday, along with Bustan Al Nasr in the south-west and nearby Izaa, with more fighting further south in Sukari, where at least four civilians died.

Sakhur and Hanano districts in the north-east also saw shelling, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that more than 60 were killed nationwide.

In Beirut, a military court filed charges including terrorism against members of the Meqdad clan, who were among six people charged with establishing an armed group to kidnap people, including Syrians, the official National News Agency said.

Lebanese security forces arrested Maher Meqdad, a spokesman for the Shiite clan, last week. He said last month that the clan had kidnapped Syrians and a Turkish citizen in retaliation for the seizure of a family member by Syrian rebels.

Lebanon's army freed the Syrians last week, and the Meqdad clan handed over the Turkish hostage.

* Bloomberg News, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters