Refugees Continue To Flee From Violence In Syria

NPR's Deb Amos has the latest from Syria, focusing on the refugee exodus amid sustained government attacks on towns and villages in northern Aleppo province.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The conflict in Syria continues, anti-government rebels claim they have captured an air defense base in eastern Syria. The rebels are now concentrating on President Bashar al-Assad's air power, but that's according to videos posted online and reports from activists groups.

The Syrian regime relies increasingly on helicopter gunships and fighter jets to crush the rebels. The government has mounted a relentless campaign in the North, in and around Aleppo which is Syria's largest city and the country's financial hub. The air campaign has caused a dramatic increase in civilians fleeing to Turkey and safety.

NPR's Deborah Amos joins us now from Antakya on the Turkish border. Deb, good morning.


WERTHEIMER: Syria's rebels have posted videos from the air defense base. They're showing captured officers, captured heavy weapons and ammunition. The attacks on military air bases, is this a new tactic for the rebels?

AMOS: Seems so. We can't confirm the images or the number of aircraft destroyed, but this does appear to be a new tactic. According to rebel commanders, they've posted comments of the operation on Facebook. And they say that they don't have anti-aircraft weapons to take out the fighter jets and the helicopters. So the commanders said that they hit the air bases to destroy aircraft on the ground. They said this was a joint operation, six brigades took part to launch a raid on Syrian air power.

In the east, in Deir ez-Zor, that's on the Iraqi border, three days earlier they attacked a military base in Idlib Province near the Turkish border. Now, the commander said that this operation was carried out with heavy weapons that they had already taken from the Syrian army in previous operations - tanks, mortars. They also make their own rockets. And they were using those, they said. They gathered intelligence from defected officers before launching that attack.

WERTHEIMER: Deb, you've just come from a trip to Northern Syria, to Aleppo Province. Is there any evidence that the stream of Syrians trying to get to the border is slowing down?

AMOS: Not at all. We were driving around Aleppo Province and we stopped in these small farming villages near the Turkish border. And there you can see that the population has quadrupled in recent weeks. The village that had 5,000 now has 20,000 people. They live in schools, in government offices. And many have come from Aleppo neighborhoods. These people are all heading further the north and they're ready to run to the Turkish border if the bombing reaches them.

We also spent an evening at an unofficial border post. It's just a hole in the barbed wire fence that defines the Syrian/Turkish border. And there, we watched Syrians sneaking into Turkey. What they say is the official border crossing there, it can take weeks to get processed by Turkish officials 'cause they cannot build these tent camps fast enough.

Now, Turkey has registered 80,000 Syrian refugees. But it was clear, watching this border post, that there are many, many more.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Deborah Amos, as you just heard, has just returned from a trip into northern Syria, into Aleppo Province. We'll more about that trip during the course of the week.

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