Syria: They came at dawn, and killed in cold blood

As Syrians flee, conditions worsen in Turkey's border camps

The houses looked abandoned, windows and doors locked, a broken shutter clattering in the wind. Then, one by one, they began to appear from their hiding places, mainly women and children, a few elderly people. The residents of this village had learned to their cost that being caught unawares in this violent conflict could have lethal consequences.

The raid by the secret police – the Mukhabarat – and the Shabbiha militia had come at dawn. The killings had been cold-blooded and quick, three men shot dead as, barely awake, they tried desperately to get away. A search for others had proved fruitless; they had fled the day before. The damage to homes vented the frustration of the gunmen at missing their quarries.

"They were working from a list. But they made mistakes. One of them was the wrong person. They did not even have the right name of the man they killed," said Qais al-Baidi, gesturing towards the graves on a sloping hillside. "But none of them deserved this. They were not terrorists. They had just taken part in some demonstrations. These Assad people are vicious. They have no pity. They like killing."

The three killings were among the many that had followed the ferocious onslaught launched by Bashar al-Assad against the uprising. Two centres of opposition in the north of the country had been taken after bloody clashes, Jisr al-Shughour early in the week, Maaret al-Numan falling on Friday. This village was among a cluster that had been subjected, according to a regime commander, to a "cleaning-up" operation.

The offensive had led to a terrified exodus of much of the local population, with 12,000 huddled in squalid conditions on the Syrian side of the border. Another 10,000 had made it across to Turkey, only to be herded into holding centres, locked away from the outside world, the government in Ankara making it clear that these people will be sent back at an opportune time.

The locals in the Turkish province of Hatay and the international media have been kept away from the dispossessed families. The Turkish government insists they are "guests", as accepting they are refugees could lead to legal obligations towards them. But Angelina Jolie, Hollywood actress and UN goodwill ambassador, was taken to see one of the centres after expressing a wish to help to alleviate the suffering of Syria. A banner put up by the Turkish authorities at the entrance to the camp read "Goodness Angel of the World, Welcome".

Away from the focus of celebrity attention, there is little help for those stuck at the frontier. The vast majority sleep under trees; a few have managed to drive pick-up trucks cross-country and use the trailer to sleep; others have built makeshift tents out of rags and plastic sheeting. A pond with floating rubbish and the waters of the river were being used for washing and drinking. Some of the injured had failed to survive without adequate medical help, and their funerals were held where they had died.

The only "aid" for a humanitarian crisis worsening by the day had been meagre supplies, bottles of water and loaves of bread smuggled in by groups of young men on foot across steep ridges, along the same path taken by The Independent on Sunday. Relief organisations have not been allowed access by either the Syrians or the Turks. But for those remaining in the village, the camps at the border, despite the desperate straits they are in, are the goals to reach. They offer relative safety from the savagery of a state waging war on its own people.

Hania Um Jaffar, whose 22-year-old nephew, Khalid Abdullah, was one of those killed, was convinced that the journey there was the only choice. "We had hidden in the fields the day before when we saw helicopters flying over us. But they went away and we thought it had passed. But then they came later on foot. They did not come into our home, but went to others, to the one where Khalid was staying. He was shot many times.

"I don't want anyone else in my family to die. Surely that is what will happen if we stay here. My sons have gone to the mountains, and another nephew has done the same. They cannot come back to take us to Turkey. That is too dangerous for them. We have to make our own way there."

The tiny community remaining in the dozen houses were running out of food. Bassem Mohammed Ibrahim, a 68-year-old farmer, spread his hands. "[The regime forces] did not burn the crops here like they have done in other places. But the only men left here now are old ones like me. We cannot work the fields by ourselves. Our farms will be ruined. But if we stay here, I don't think we will survive."

The journey to the border, however, is fraught with risk. The secret police and the Shabbiha, drawn from the community to which President Assad and the Syrian elite belong, had ambushed families, forcing some to turn back. A small group of opposition fighters provide protection along the route. "But we only have a few of these," said Habib Ali Hussein, holding up his Kalashnikov assault rifle. "Assad has tanks, artillery, helicopters."

Until two weeks ago Mr Hussein was part of those forces as a lieutenant in the army. He deserted, he claimed, sickened by the violence meted out to unarmed civilians. "They were shooting people who were refusing to follow orders. That is what happened at Jisr al-Shughour. I am from that area, and my people were being attacked. So I got my family away from our home and then I left. We haven't got the weapons to go forward. All we are doing is defending."

At the border camp, Isha al-Diri, a medical assistant at a clinic in Jisr al-Shugour, had been administering treatment as best he could. "The seriously injured have been taken to Turkey. But some died before that could happen. The problem here is that we haven't got enough medicine."

Rawat Khalifa had come seeking cough medicine for his six-year-old daughter. "It is the damp; a lot of the young ones are ill. We shall have to go to Turkey if they get any worse. We cannot take risks with their lives.

"We have not crossed over so far because we are Syrians. We want to stay in our own country. But we are afraid to go back home. We are afraid that our own leaders will try to kill us."

Yesterday, Syrian troops arrived with tanks at Bdama, only 12 miles from the Turkish border. Dozens were arrested and houses were burned, according to eyewitnesses. The area had been considered a key region for passing food and supplies to people who have fled the violence in their villages but have yet to cross the border into Turkey.

Foreign Office advice: Britons warned to leave Syria

British nationals were urged yesterday to leave Syria immediately, as the situation in the country deteriorated further. Updating its travel advice, the Foreign Office warned Britons to use "commercial means" to leave while they were still available. It reissued an urgent warning against all travel to the country, adding it was "highly unlikely" the embassy in the country's capital, Damascus, would be able to assist if the situation worsened.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Because of the current situation, we advise against all travel to Syria. We ask British nationals to heed this advice and leave the country now." He urged Britons to "take responsibility for their own safety and security".

Suggested Topics
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Maths Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Year 5 Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments