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Hundreds Of Syrians Flee Across Turkey's Border


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Hundreds of Syrians are fleeing across the border to Turkey. As Syria's uprising has moved north, the government appears to have lost control of a large swath of country bordering Turkey, and there are reports of thousands of Syrian troops massing to retake that region.

We've reached Owen Bennett Jones of the BBC, who is on the Turkish side of the border.

Good morning, Owen.

Mr. OWEN BENNETT JONES (Journalist, BBC): Good morning to you.

WERTHEIMER: What are you hearing from refugees who are coming over from Syria?

Mr. JONES: I've just spoken to a group of three young men, unemployed, they said, who just fled. They came over this morning. They said they're extremely anxious. They're very worried about what's happening in their area. Many of the villages and towns have been abandoned. I'm looking now over a valley, which is the border-crossing point between the two countries. There's a road at the bottom of the valley, olive groves and rather scrappy wheat fields all around, some cows and sheep and so on, and really a very pleasant rural scene.

But just on the other side of the road, I can see trucks coming up to the road. That's in Syria, and those trucks are disgorging people about every 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and then the people gather on the border, see that the coast is clear and slip across into Turkey.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that the Turks are providing camps for these refugees and ambulances near the border. Are people coming across who are wounded?

Mr. JONES: That's certainly the case. I'm looking at the road now, as I've just described. And on that road, you occasionally see white Turkish ambulances driving down. They are bringing wounded people into Turkey for medical care. The lightly wounded end up in a camp just about 19 miles from here. The more heavily injured go to the big cities to hospitals, and there are a number of people there in quite serious condition. So the Turkish prime minister has said the door will not be closed to the refugees. And even though there are problems at the local level in administering this, and some of the local officials don't seem to quite know how to handle it, the basic approach of the Turks seems to be to let them in.

WERTHEIMER: On Monday, the Syrian government said that 120 of their troops were killed in the town of Jisr al-Shughour. Can you tell us about that?

Mr. JONES: Well, I haven't found anyone who admits or claims to have seen that. But I think it is worth saying this, that from the beginning, over the last three months of this crisis in Syria, the government has repeatedly reported on security personnel being killed in quite large numbers. These claims, I think, are probably not unreasonable. I mean, they've shown the pictures on state television. They've named the people. They've done interviews with the families of these police and army people killed.

And the government's point is that the protests they're up against are not entirely peaceful, despite the way the Western media has reported it. So there is frustration in Damascus - of course, entirely borne of the fact that they're banning foreign correspondents from going in there. But they feel they're not getting their story out.

WERTHEIMER: What are you hearing about the possibility of an impending assault by Syrian forces? The New York Times is reporting today that these forces are being led by the younger brother of Bashar al-Assad.

Mr. JONES: Yeah. That's what the rumor is saying. That's what the refugees fear, and that's why they're moving. And they think that there will be a massive assault, because this was a very, very big attack on the army. I mean, to lose 120 people in a day, it's a huge, huge thing. And so people believe that there will be a ferocious response.

Many - I mean, I was looking at a village now, which must be two kilometers away, it's completely empty, I told. There's no one leaving in that village. It's a tiny place. There's only 40, 50 buildings. But the people there think that the army might come, so they're all living in orchards, their own fields and orchards. And they're trying to live as close as they can to the border so that if this attack, this assault comes that they believe is coming, that they will be able to just slip across into Turkey and find refuge here.

WERTHEIMER: Owen Bennett Jones reports for the BBC. He's been talking to us from the Turkish side of the Turkish/Syrian border.

Owen, thank you.

Mr. JONES: A pleasure. Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.