x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Syrian troops burn down a bakery, as Turkey starts providing bread to refugees

Activists say Syrian military has set up checkpoints and arrested dozens of people over the past two days in an attempt to staunch the flow of residents into Turkey as Syria's three-month-old pro-democracy uprising rages on.

A Turkish woman talks to a relative, a Syrian refugee, through a fence at the refugee camp in the Turkish town of Yayladagi yesterday. Umit Bektas / Reuters
A Turkish woman talks to a relative, a Syrian refugee, through a fence at the refugee camp in the Turkish town of Yayladagi yesterday. Umit Bektas / Reuters

BOYNUYOGUN REFUGEE CAMP // Syrian troops tightened their grip on a rebellious area near the Turkish border, setting fire a bakery that was supplying bread to thousands of displaced people, as well as homes, activists said yesterday

The Turkish government, meanwhile, began providing food for the first time to Syrians across the border who had fled the army's campaign.

The Syrian military set up checkpoints and arrested dozens of people over the past two days in an attempt to staunch the flow of residents into Turkey as Syria's three-month-old pro-democracy uprising raged on, several activists reported.

They said Syrian authorities at the border were making it much more difficult for Syrians to cross.

Residents of Bdama said that troops on tanks firing machine guns were combing the village in Syria's northern Idlib province and surrounding areas, and several homes were set ablaze in what appeared to be revenge attacks, the human rights activist Ammar Qurabi said.

A man at the Bdama bakery was shot in the stomach as the place was torched by troops, and he was evacuated to Turkey for treatment yesterday morning, said an activist near the border, Jamil Saeb. The bakery was said to have been the sole source of bread for thousands stuck on the Syrian side of the frontier.

The anti-government activists' reports about the continuing crackdown could not be independently verified.

The fighting in the Jisr al Shughour area in Idlib began nearly two weeks ago and has displaced thousands of people, including 10,100 sheltered in three Turkish refugee camps. An estimated 5,000 more are camped out on the Syrian side of the border, with dwindling resources, trying to remain in Syria, closer to their homes and relatives, avoiding the official refugee status that might delay their return.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities said yesterday that Turkey had begun providing food to those on the Syrian side. The local Turkish governor's office said some Syrians were collecting food at the border to take to the stranded families. It said there was no question of Turkish soldiers crossing into Syria.

The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as the uprising against the Assad family's 40-year-old authoritarian regime has proved remarkably resilient despite the relentless campaign by the military, other security forces and pro-regime gunmen.

The Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso said military operations were also under way yesterday in the village of and Rihan near the border, which with Bdama had been a gateway for refugees and for their food and medical supplies.

"Security forces have arrested around 100 people from those villages in the past few days. They are trying to close off border areas with checkpoints to keep people from leaving," Mr Osso said.

He added that troops were surrounding the now-deserted small village of al Hamboushieh, only a few kilometres from the border encampment. "We are concerned that the thousands gathered near the border will eventually come under attack," Mr Osso said.

Along the border yesterday, those displaced said they were running short of supplies.

"We are encircled and have been without bread for two days," said Rami Ismail, whose family fled from the village of al Hamboushieh to a camp just across the Turkish border. "We are hoping for some assistance from Turkey," he added, before the Turks announced they had begun the cross-border deliveries.

The attack on Bdama occurred a day after Syrian forces encircled Maaret al Numan, a town on the highway linking Damascus, the capital, with Syria's largest city, Aleppo.