Streams of Syrians are continuing to seek ways to escape their war-battered nation, with increasing waves of refugees now trying to enter Turkey by swimming or boating across the Orontes River to safety.
Scores of civilians, many of them women with screaming children clinging to their necks, have crossed the narrow Orontes as they flee the fighting in Azmarin, as the number of Syrians in Turkey are estimated at more than 130,000.
Villagers used ropes and small metal boats to ferry the injured across a river no more than 10 meters wide into Turkey. Residents from the village of Hacıpaşa helped pull them across in small metal boats.
Activists confirmed that there was fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime around Azmarin.
Footage from Anatolia news agency showed three young children scrambling down a river bank on the Syrian side before being taken across to Turkey on a makeshift raft strapped to an inner tube. The children said they were fleeing fighting in Azmarin.
Private broadcaster NTV reported that explosions and automatic weapon fire could be heard from Azmarin in Turkey’s Hatay province. It said rebels were clashing with around 500 Syrian government soldiers, and that at least 100 rebels had been injured, some of whom had been brought to Turkey for treatment.
99,000 refugees in camps
Meanwhile, the number of refugees taking shelter in Turkey has reached 99,000, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced yesterday.
The number is just a thousand short of the threshold of 100,000 that Ankara announced as its limit, but sources speaking on condition of anonymity said the country was already hosting 130,000
refugees because 30,000 Syrians had entered Turkey with their passports and were not living in tent cities.
On the ground, Damascus launched a new operation against rebels in besieged Homs. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, on the back foot with rebels controlling swathes of north Syria and defying months of offensives, sent reinforcements to a strategic northern town captured by the insurgents, a watchdog said.
Residents of the old city neighborhood of Homs desperately pleaded for assistance as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy shelling of rebel belts across the central city and nearby town of Qusayr, both besieged for months. The army this week vowed to overrun both Homs and Qusayr by the end of the week to free up troops for northern battle zones like Aleppo.
Syria rejects truce
The Syrian government also said an appeal by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a cease-fire would only be acceptable if rebels agreed to abide by it, too.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said two previous attempts at holding a cease-fire had broken down when the rebels carried out attacks. U.N. observers at the time said government forces had also violated the truce.