Syrians ‘flee to Lebanon’

Syrians ‘flee to Lebanon’

Syrians ‘flee to Lebanon’

Lebanese anti-Syrian regime salafists protesters attend a demonstration at the Martyrs square in Beirut March 4. AP photo

Up to 2,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria have attempted to cross the border into northern Lebanon, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency said, while Syrian artillery gunners pounded the mainly rebel-held city of Rastan, after seizing the city of Homs from rebels after a nearly month- long siege.

“Between one and two thousand [Syrians] are in the process of coming from Syria to Lebanon,” the UNHCR’s deputy representative in Lebanon, Jean Paul Cavalieri, said. This constitutes the first mass migration from Syria to Lebanon during the 11-month crackdown on rebels by Syrian forces.

A witness on the Lebanese border heard heavy shelling coming from the nearby Syrian town of Qusayr early yesterday, and saw mainly women and children fleeing towards Lebanon on foot.

“Since dawn, the positions of deserters in the north of Rastan have been subject to intensive shelling,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said. Four children were among seven civilians killed in shelling by regime forces in Rastan yesterday, the Observatory said.

On Feb. 5 the rebel fighters declared Rastan to be “liberated” from President Bashar al-Assad’s control, but since Homs was overrun by regime forces on March 1, the deserters have been bracing for an onslaught on Rastan and on Qusayr, also near Homs. Rastan is a strategic city because, like Homs, it falls on the main road linking Damascus with northern Syria. The Observatory had reported on March 2 that 12 civilians, including five children, were killed when a rocket slammed into a crowd of protesters in Rastan.

The assault on mainly rebel-held Rastan came as China urged all parties in Syria to “unconditionally” end the violence, and a monitoring group said 44 people had been killed in various parts on the country on March 3.

As the number of refugees running from Syria increases, a total of 150 people entered Turkey in two days. Twenty-two Syrians entered Turkey via the town of Reyhanlı in the southern province of Hatay on March 3, in addition to 135 who had entered on March 2. The deputy governor of Reyhanlı, Yusuf Güler, said that the group included children and women, and they will be housed in a tent city erected by the Turkish Red Crescent in Reyhanlı.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross said it delivered aid to areas around the battered Baba Amro district of the Syrian city of Homs yesterday, but was blocked from entering the former rebel stronghold itself. The Red Cross said it was prevented from entering Baba Amro by Syrian ground forces despite receiving government permission, a move activists said was designed to prevent aid workers witnessing army “massacres.” 

“We have the green light, we hope to enter, we hope today is the day,” said the ICRC’s Damascus-based spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh.

Compiled from Reuters, AA and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.

Turkey denies Syria meeting 

ANKARA-Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey denied yesterday that it would meet with Russia and Iran to discuss the ongoing problems in Syria under a tripartite mechanism, an idea suggested by Russia’s top envoy to Turkey.

“There will be no such a meeting [of Turkey, Russia and Iran]. We have not proposed using such a mechanism,” a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News. 

The official’s statement came in response to Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Vladimir Ivanovsky, who claimed that diplomats from Turkey, Russia and Iran were scheduled to meet to discuss the developments in Syria. The Turkish official said that the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers met in Moscow in late January and discussed developments in Syria and other Arab Spring countries. 

“We have advised them [Russia] to talk to the Syrian leadership to stop the bloodshed, and not to hold a tripartite meeting. Perhaps they misunderstood what we said,” the official said. Ambassador Ivanovsky mentioned the possibility of a meeting between the three countries in an interview with a Turkish daily yesterday.

Without giving detailed information as to whose idea was this, the ambassador did not say when the meeting would take place.