Tension rises as amid fresh Syrian exodus
ANKARA / DAMASCUS
Turkish soldiers aim their guns at the other side of border with Syria in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa’s Ceylanpınar town amid ongoing violence. DHA photo
At least 11,000 Syrian refugees fled their country in a single day on Nov. 9, pouring into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon with children and dozens of wounded, U.N. officials said. Most of the refugee surge – 9,000 people including over 70 wounded – fled to Turkey, while Jordan and Lebanon each absorbed another 1,000 refugees.
More than 120,000 registered Syrian refugees are now sheltered in Turkish camps. Tens of thousands of unregistered Syrians are also living in Turkish border towns and villages. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official had earlier put the latest influx at 8,000 for the single-day total.
The latest exodus to Turkey is one of the largest on a single day since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year. A Turkish official said the Syrians were mostly escaping fighting in the town of Harem, in Syria’s northern Idlib province as well as violence in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn in the northeastern province of al-Hasaka, where rebels have wrestled control from al-Assad’s forces, the Associated Press reported.
Ceylanpınar still tense
The U.N. refugee agency said 1,000 Syrians had also fled to Lebanon and another 1,000 to Jordan, swelling the overall total who are registered or being assisted in the region to 408,000. “The arrival of the last 24 hours is really the highest we have had in quite some time,” said Panos Moumtzis, the regional coordinator for the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR. As the clashes in Ras al-Ayn continued, Turkish authorities kept schools in the neighboring Turkish town of Ceylanpınar closed for a second day on Nov. 9.
Meanwhile, at least 20 Syrian soldiers were killed and several wounded in clashes with rebels in Ras al-Ayn, activists said. Marking the biggest mass desertion of senior soldiers from al-Assad’s forces in months, 26 military officers have reportedly defected to Turkey.
The officers, among them two generals, 11 colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, four captains and five lieutenants, crossed into the border province of Hatay with their families and other soldiers, totaling 71 people.
In Israel, deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon warned Damascus it would act to defend its sovereignty if the fighting continued to spill over into the occupied Golan Heights, Agence France-Presse reported. His remarks, published on his official Twitter account, were made a day after three stray mortar rounds fired from Syria hit the occupied Golan Heights.
He said Israel sees “the Syrian regime as responsible” for the incidents and if they “spill over in our direction, we know how to defend [Israel].”