Syrians arrive at Turkish border shocked, divided
GUVECCI, Turkey |
GUVECCI, Turkey (Reuters) - Two Syrians entered Turkey early Monday, just 36 kilometres apart, one a bride driven through the official border in a wedding car, the other an army deserter risking his life ferrying wounded .
Their stories epitomise the divisions that are threatening to tear Syria apart.
Their different journeys reflect a surreal situation, in which terrified refugees descend from the hills to seek shelter wherever they can enter Turkey, while close by normal traffic continues at official border crossings.
Monday, hours of thunderstorms and drenching rain made conditions even more miserable for the thousands of Syrians waiting in the hills, ready to flee across the border if Syrian troops advance towards them.
Darwish Mohammad Sebo, a slight 23-year-old conscript, sneaked into the Turkish border village of Guvecci, after deserting his post near Homs on May 14 and escaping to the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour before entering Turkey.
He described the moment which prompted him to desert.
"I was in the front line against protesters, armed with a baton and a shield. Behind me were 'shabbiha' and forces they trust more to shoot, armed with automatic rifles. No Syrian would have accepted being in my position, seeing his compatriots slaughtered," he said.
"Shabbiha" are gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
"I paid a bribe to a lieutenant to give me sick leave and I never went back. Many more were like me. The morale is very low. They do not allow us to take leave to see our families."
Leaning against a car, Sebo appeared anxious and shaken by his experience as he showed footage on his mobile phone of a youth lying dead, shot in the stomach.
Assad's army retook the rebellious town Jisr al-Shughour after an army assault, backed by tanks, that began last Friday.
Syrian authorities said 120 security personnel were killed there last week in fighting they blamed on "armed groups." Some residents said the killings followed a mutiny, or a refusal by some troops to shoot protesters against Assad's autocratic rule.
"I marched in the funeral of Bassel al-Masri (a demonstrator) two weeks ago when Military Intelligence fired on us. I escaped and ever since I have been going back and forth carrying wounded people to Turkey by car or taking the martyrs to be buried in the villages," said Sebo.
THOUSANDS IN REFUGEE CAMPS
Almost 7,000 Syrian refugees have now fled the predominantly Sunni town, just 20 km from Guvecci, and streamed across the rolling farmland into Turkey, where Turkish soldiers take them to one of four refugee camps.
North of Guvecci at the border village of Hacipasa, Sumeyla, who declined to give her last name, was about to marry a Turkish relative. Her Syrian wedding car, festooned with pink and white ribbons and flowers, drove through the village hooting its horn.
Sumeyla, from an Alawite family, said they had seen nothing on the drive from her nearby village.
"We are very happy with our president," said a male guest at her wedding. "The stories that are circulating are lies. Foreign gangs attacked Jisr al-Shughour and the thousands who are coming to Turkey are being paid to flee," he said.
The Alawites, a Muslim sect close to Shi'ism, are a minority in mostly Sunni Syria. Assad is an Alawite, and Alawite officers hold key positions in the mostly Sunni army.
Alawites receive preferential treatment in government and security jobs, but many Alawite villages remain poor and prominent Alawite figures lead part of the secular opposition to the Assad family's four-decade rule over Syria.
Back in Guvecci 27-year-old Ahmad Yassin said he had been at his 7,000 square metre plot of land two km east of Jisr al-Shughour Monday morning when a force of 200 soldiers and men wearing black arrived in armoured personnel carriers and cars and poured petrol over his growing wheat.
"I tried to save my three cows but there was no time. I put my wife and two children in the car and drove straight to the border."
Tractor driver Abu Achmed, 55, lives five km north of Jisr al-Shughour. Speaking to Reuters just after arriving in Guvecci to search for supplies, he described his departure from his home. "Tanks arrived in the village and started shelling randomly. We escaped."
"I heard the shabbiha were in Jisr and were ransacking houses and shops. I was afraid. My wife and children are waiting on the other side of the border in the rain. They have no food or shelter."
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