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

  • Trial of B.C. polygamous sect followers to hear defence's closing arguments

    Canada News CTV News
    CRANBROOK, B.C. - A defence lawyer in a trial involving three people with ties to a British Columbia polygamous community is expected to deliver his closing arguments today. John Gustafson is representing Brandon Blackmore, who is accused of taking a 13-year-old girl into the United States for a sexual purpose in 2004. Source
  • Recovery of Oakland warehouse fire victims winds down; investigation looms

    World News CTV News
    OAKLAND, Calif. -- Some people were able to text loved ones goodbye and "I love you" before they died in an Oakland warehouse fire that claimed three dozen lives, officials said, as heart-rending reports of victims' last moments emerged from the most lethal building fire in the U.S. Source
  • 80 per cent of Filipino youth suffer violence, UNICEF survey says

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines - A United Nations agency that promotes children's rights says its survey shows a high prevalence of violence against Filipino children, with eight out of 10 suffering some form of physical or psychological abuse, with the highest number of incidents found among lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender youth. Source
  • Klay Thompson of NBA's Warriors scores 60 points in just 29 minutes

    World News CBC News
    Klay Thompson wanted one more quarter. He wanted to score 80, and thinks he absolutely could have. Hard to argue that one: He went off for 60 points in 29 head-shaking, jaw-dropping, defense-breaking minutes. "Who knows? I know he would have kept shooting," coach Steve Kerr said. Source
  • Bill Cosby's stunning deposition can be used at trial, judge rules

    World News CBC News
    Damaging testimony that Bill Cosby gave in an accuser's lawsuit, including admissions that he gave young women drugs and alcohol before sex, can be used at his sex assault trial, a judge ruled Monday. The defence has insisted Cosby testified only after being promised he would never be charged over his 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand, a Toronto native. Source
  • 'We have lost everything': Syrians return to Aleppo

    World News CTV News
    ALEPPO, Syria -- Amina Hamawy burst into tears and then fainted when she returned to eastern Aleppo to find that looters had ransacked her home. "Where am I? What happened?" she asked after her husband and daughter revived her. Source
  • U.S. watching Ferguson, lead monitor says in bid to end racial bias in policing and courts

    World News CTV News
    FERGUSON, Mo. - The lead monitor overseeing efforts to eradicate racial bias in Ferguson's police and court system told residents Monday that the "eyes of the whole nation" are on the St. Louis suburb. Clark Ervin spoke to about 100 people at a town hall meeting in the town forever changed following the Aug. Source
  • Texas Republican won't cast electoral college vote for Trump

    World News CBC News
    A Republican member of the Electoral College from Texas said Monday that he won't cast one of his state's 38 electoral votes for Donald Trump because "I am here to elect a president, not a king. Source
  • Could Dakota Access pipeline move after permit denial?

    World News CTV News
    OMAHA, Neb. - The Army's refusal to grant a permit for the Dakota Access oil pipeline to cross beneath the Missouri River has focused more attention on alternative routes, but several other options already have been considered and rejected as being more risky and expensive. Source
  • Cuba starts return to normal as mourning for Castro ends

    World News CTV News
    HAVANA -- Music is playing in the streets again. Tourists are sipping mojitos at sidewalk cafes. Flags are flapping at full staff. After nine days of national mourning for Fidel Castro, Cuba is slowly returning to noisy, boisterous normality. Source