Syria blocks entry of protest convoy

Border guards stop 150 expatriate activists from crossing Turkish border to deliver aid to people affected by uprising.

The convoy hopes to send food, medicine and blankets to those who are in need in Syria [Reuters]

Syrian border guards have turned away a protest convoy of about 150 Syrian expatriates attempting to cross from Turkey into Syria to deliver blankets, medicine and food to people affected by the government’s crackdown on protests.

“The Syrian government said no to medical supplies, no to doctors who would go in to treat the wounded, and they said no to food. They said no to everything,” said Belal Dalati, a 42-year-old Syrian businessman from California, after a delegation from the convoy was denied entry.

The activists, brought together by a campaign on the social networking website Facebook, had left the southeastern city of Gaziantep in buses and cars earlier on Thursday.

Finding their way blocked at the Oncupinar border crossing, about 15km south of the Turkish town of Kilis, the activists in the “Freedom Convoy to Syria” set up a camp on a muddy basketball pitch.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Muhyedin Lazikani, a Syrian writer taking part in the convoy, said: “We come with food, medicine, blankets, to give to the people under siege in Syria.

“We are ready to put our tents up and stay here as long as it takes.”

The UN estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed during a crackdown by the Syrian authorities on an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria says it is fighting foreign-backed “terrorists” and that 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.

Dalati said his cousin had been shot dead in the Syrian town of Zabadina, near the Lebanese border last week.

“We are watching people dying, women, children and the elderly too are getting killed in this conflict … just because
the regime wants to stay in power,” he said.

“We are calling for foreign military intervention, creating a safe zone for people to flee and for a free army to be organised.”


Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari reports on Syrian refugees struggling to cope with poor conditions in Lebanon

Turkey’s foreign ministry told the Reuters news agency that it had been in touch with people in the convoy but did not say whether Ankara supported the campaign.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has criticised Syria’s crackdown on protests, calling on former ally Assad to step down and slapping sanctions on Damascus.

Turkey, which shares a 900km long border with Syria, is hosting several thousand refugees, including members of the rebel Syrian Free Army, at camps, while the opposition Syrian National Council meets regularly in Istanbul.

Convoy member Samir Jisri, a 35-year-old computer graphics teacher from Toronto, said he wanted to return to the country he left as an infant.

“The Syrian revolution is an orphaned revolution because nobody is sticking up for it, not even the Arab League,” he said. “The last hope we have is Turkey.”

Moayad Skaif, a 30-year-old Syrian journalist from Qatar, who was on one of the coaches, said: “We want to go to Syria to show to the whole world what is happening in Syria. Assad does not want the truth to come out.”

Fears of civil war

Arab League head, Nabil el-Araby meanwhile told the Egyptian Al-Hayat television channel on Friday that he feared a possible civil war in Syria that could have consequences for neighbouring countries.

“Yes I fear a civil war and the events that we see and hear about now could lead to a civil war,” said el-Araby, whose body deployed monitors on December 26 to check whether Syria was respecting an Arab peace plan.

“Any problems in Syria will have consequences for the neighbouring states,” he said.

He described reports from the mission head as “worrying”, but said there was “no doubt that the pace of killing has fallen with the presence of the observers”.

His comments came as the credibility of the League’s monitoring mission was hit by members starting to walk out, apparently because the operation had failed to halt the government’s violent crackdown on protests, a former monitor said.

The monitors resumed work on Thursday, a League official said, for the first time since 11 were injured by pro-Assad
demonstrators in the port of Latakia three days previously, an attack that also sidelined plans to expand the team.

There have been renewed calls for an independent assessment of violence in the country following the death of a French TV cameraman during a government-sponsored trip to Syria on Wednesday. 

The French government, human rights groups and the opposition demanded an independent investigation into the killing of Gilles Jacquier while filming a pro-government rally in the restive city of Homs.

Syria’s government and the opposition continue to trade blame for the incident.

Jacquier, who worked for France-2 Television, became the first Western journalist to be killed in the 10-month-old Syrian uprising.

He was among a group of 15 journalists on the government trip when they were hit by several grenades, and his death was likely to become a rallying cry for both sides.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies