Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Turkey Seals Border With Syria to All but Refugees

GENEVA — Turkey has closed its border with Syria to commercial traffic, but the United Nations’s refugee agency said the border would remain open to those fleeing the conflict in Syria and that hundreds of people had made their way to safety in the past 24 hours.
Turkish customs officials announced they were closing the 566-mile border on Wednesday after the seizure of two crossing points by Syrian rebel forces last week. At one crossing point, Bab al-Hawa, dozens of Turkish trucks were burned or looted when the rebels seized control, The Associated Press reported.

Wednesday’s decision, which Turkish officials said affects three border posts still open at Cilvegozu, Oncupinar and Karkamis, coincided with an upsurge in fighting between government and rebel forces in Aleppo, about 30 miles from Bab al-Hawa.

Turkish authorities have given assurances that the border is still open to people seeking to cross for humanitarian reasons, Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said on Wednesday. “We do know that people have continued to cross,” she said.

Around 300 Syrian refugees crossed the border into Turkey on Tuesday night, Ms. Wilkes said, joining more than 44,000 people the refugee agency reported have fled the fighting in recent months. Turkish authorities are now building two new camps capable of holding some 20,000 people to accommodate the continuing flow of refugees, the agency said.

With fierce fighting over the past week in the Syrian capital, Damascus, most refugees in recent days have fled to Lebanon or south to Jordan, with an average of 1,200 to 1,300 crossing the borders every day, Ms. Wilkes said.

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