Turkey under pressure as Syrians mass at border

BEIRUT -- Turkey came under mounting pressure to open its border Saturday as tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a government onslaught sought entry and the European Union called on Ankara to grant them refuge.

See Full Article

As many as 35,000 Syrians have massed along the closed border, according to Suleyman Tapsiz, governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis. He said Turkey would provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an "extraordinary crisis."

The Norwegian Refugee Council said thousands of Syrians have arrived at seven of the main informal camps close to the Turkish border. The group said the camps were already at capacity before the latest influx, and that aid groups are working around the clock to deliver tents and essential items to the displaced.

Filip Lozinski, an NRC supervisor in the area, told The Associated Press that many refugee families were forced to sleep out in the open, some under trees, because they could not find shelter.

At a meeting in Amsterdam between EU foreign ministers and their Turkish counterpart, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged Turkey to open its borders to "Syrians in need for international protection," and said the EU is providing aid to Ankara for that purpose.

EU nations have committed 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to Turkey for helping refugees as part of incentives aimed at persuading it to do more to stop thousands of migrants from leaving for Greece.

Turkey already hosts some 2.5 million Syrian refugees.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday that his country maintains an "open border policy for these people fleeing from the aggression of the (Syrian) regime as well as airstrikes of Russia."

He said Turkey had already allowed in more than 5,000 recently displaced Syrians, but did not address the restrictions along the border.

Some of the refugees found shelter in Afrin, a Kurdish enclave to Aleppo's north controlled by a militia known as the YPG, said a Kurdish official, Idris Naasan. The militia hoped to prevent a humanitarian disaster and help those stuck at the border, he said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have been advancing across the north in recent days behind a curtain of heavy Russian airstrikes, and could soon encircle rebel strongholds in Aleppo, once the country's largest city and commercial hub. This week alone, Russian warplanes hit close to 900 targets across Syria, including near Aleppo.

Those living in parts of the city held by the rebels since 2012 fear they could be the next victims of siege tactics used across Syria by all sides in the war, which have caused widespread malnourishment and starvation.

"There is a big wave of people leaving Aleppo City because they are scared Al-Castello Highway -- the only way out -- will be cut off," said Osaid Pasha, an Aleppo-based activist who recently fled to Turkey.

"There are still a large number of civilians inside the city," he said.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem meanwhile said government forces were "on track to end the conflict" following the recent gains around Aleppo.

"Like it or not, our battlefield achievements indicate that we are headed toward the end of the crisis," he told a press conference in Damascus. He called on rebel fighters to "come to their senses" and lay down their weapons.

The advance of Syrian troops and the blistering Russian airstrikes in Aleppo and elsewhere led to the breakdown of indirect peace talks launched earlier this week in Geneva, with the opposition saying there was no point in negotiating under fire. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura hopes to resume the talks by Feb. 25, but it's unclear if either delegation will return.

Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the opposition, meanwhile said it is ready, in principle, to send ground troops to Syria, albeit in the context of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State group.

But al-Moallem warned that Saudi or other foreign troops entering his country would "return home in wooden coffins," a line he repeated three times during the one-hour press conference.

Russia's Defence Ministry has said it has "reasonable grounds" to suspect that Turkey, another opposition ally, is preparing for a military invasion of Syria.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking during a visit to Senegal on Friday, dismissed the Russian claim as "laughable" and blamed Moscow for the deaths of civilians in Syria.

Iran, another military ally of Syria, ridiculed Saudi Arabia.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, as saying he didn't think the Saudis were "brave enough" to send ground troops.

"They talk big," Jafari said. "But even if it happens, it won't be bad because they would be definitely defeated."

Iran on Saturday held funerals for six soldiers, including a senior Guard commander, Gen. Mohsen Ghajarian, who were killed in northern Syria while fighting alongside government troops.

Iran has said it has dispatched military advisers to Syria, but denies sending combat troops. A number of Iranians have been killed in recent months, including several high-ranking commanders.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an ally of Iran and Syria, has also sent reinforcements to Syria.

The Syrian state news agency SANA reported Saturday that a member of Hezbollah's "war media" department, which films military battles for the group, was among those killed in fighting north of Aleppo.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Spanish PM vows to exhume Franco from controversial site

    World News CTV News
    MADRID -- Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Monday he wants to remove the remains of the late dictator Gen. Francisco Franco from a controversial mausoleum and turn the site into a monument for reconciliation. Source
  • Manitoba Liberal wants ban on chamber talk about NDP leader's criminal past

    Canada News CTV News
    WINNIPEG -- A Manitoba politician wants to ban members of the Tory government from discussing Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew's criminal convictions and other brushes with the law inside the legislature. Liberal legislature member Judy Klassen recently asked the Speaker to stop members of the Tory government from bringing up Kinew's past during debates in the chamber. Source
  • Report says over 1 billion small arms in world, up from 2007

    World News CTV News
    CAMEROON, Cameroon -- There are over 1 billion firearms in the world today, including 857 million in civilian hands -- with American men and women the dominant owners, according to a study released Monday. The Small Arms Survey says 393 million of the civilian-held firearms, 46 per cent, are in the United States, which is "more than those held by civilians in the other top 25 countries combined. Source
  • 3 adults, 2 children, family dog struck by lightning in Ontario

    Canada News CTV News
    Three adults, two children and a family dog were struck by lightning in southwestern Ontario Monday afternoon. According to the Ontario Provincial Police, all of the human victims suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospital. Source
  • 5 people, including 2 kids and a dog, hit by lightning near Tillsonburg, Ont.

    Canada News CBC News
    Five people, including two children, were taken to hospital after being struck by lightning just outside of Tillsonburg, Ont., on Monday afternoon. The OPP say the five people were struck at an address on Main Street in Courtland, Ont. Source
  • Defeated Ontario Liberals must begin soul-searching: interim leader

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ontario's Liberals must do some soul-searching in the wake of the devastating defeat they suffered in the provincial election in order to understand where things went wrong, the party's new interim leader said Monday. Source
  • What's real, and what's not, about the U.S. border crisis

    World News CBC News
    Thousands of children split from their families at the U.S. southern border are being held in government-run facilities. Here's a look at how it came to this, what's real and what's not, and what might happen next. Source
  • Doubts loom over Colombia peace deal with hawk's election

    World News CTV News
    BOGOTA -- Uncertainty loomed over Colombia's fragile peace deal on Monday with the victory of one of its most hawkish critics in a bruising presidential runoff that laid bare deep divisions in the South American nation as it emerges from decades of bloody conflict. Source
  • Border officials argue B.C. man's Facebook posts threat to Canada's security

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- The Canada Border Services Agency says a British Columbia man's Facebook posts in support of the Islamic State group include enough violent threats to suggest he is a security risk in Canada. The agency has provided its final submissions at an admissibility hearing in Vancouver to determine whether Othman Hamdan should be deported. Source
  • Hillary Clinton: Separating families at border a 'moral crisis'

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday called the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy that has separated children from their parents at the southern U.S. border "a moral and humanitarian crisis. Source