Turkish border forces have been accused of using live bullets to drive away refugees fleeing the latest round of violence between Isis forces and opposition groups in war-ravaged Syria.
Human Rights Watch, who made the claim, has called on Turkey to halt the shooting at Syrian civilians, adding that fresh fighting between Isis and armed opposition groups in northern Aleppo has resulted in the displacement of 30,000 people in just 48 hours.
The human rights advocacy group, citing international aid workers and heads of displaced person camps near the Turkish border, adds that three of the refugee camps are now deserted as a result of the fighting.
“As civilians flee Isis fighters, Turkey is responding with live ammunition instead of compassion,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The whole world is talking about fighting ISIS, and yet those most at risk of becoming victims of its horrific abuses are trapped on the wrong side of a concrete wall.”
One Ikdah camp resident said to HRW: “We left the camp but headed north through olive groves towards the Turkish border. We were about 2,000 people. As we approached the border wall we saw Turkish soldiers on a hill behind the wall and they just started shooting at us.
“They shot at our feet and everyone just turned round and ran in all directions. I took my family and we walked to another [displaced persons] camp nearby, called al-Rayan. We’re afraid now because Isis is close to this camp too. But where can we go.”
According a monitor of the region, speaking to AFP news agency, the city of Aleppo is key to all sides fighting in Syria’s five-year civil war and holds the “key to war and peace”. The once flourishing city has been divided into zones held by the regime in the west, and opposition areas in the east, since a rebel offensive in 2012.
Raising concerns for the durability of the ceasefire, jihadists from the Islamic State group and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, the regime and loyalist militia, Kurdish fighters and rebels are now all battling each other on several fronts in the province.
“Turkey’s closed border is forcing Syrian men, women, and children to dig ditches and hide to escape the horrors of war,” Mr Simpson added. “Turkey’s attempt at creating a so-called safe zone is a terrible joke for civilians cowering underground and desperate to escape Syria.”
“The violence at the Turkey-Syria border is terrible proof of what’s wrong with the EU-Turkey deal... EU countries and Turkey should be working together to provide genuinely safe havens for Syrian refugees, not slamming doors shut in rapid succession.”
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