Syrian Rebels Carve Buffer Zone Near Turkish Border Syria's rebels have rarely been able to take and hold territory in their 16-month uprising against President Bashar Assad. But the rebels say they can now operate with relative freedom in one small pocket of northwest Syria, just inside the border from Turkey.
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Syrian Rebels Carve Buffer Zone Near Turkish Border

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Syrian Rebels Carve Buffer Zone Near Turkish Border

Syrian Rebels Carve Buffer Zone Near Turkish Border

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. In Turkey, the refugee population from neighboring Syria is expanding rapidly. More than 35,000 people who have fled the bloodshed now live in camps along the border. Hundreds more arrive daily. And as fighting in Syria escalates, these camps have become logistical bases for rebel fighters. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Antakya, Turkey.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: On this part of the Turkish border, Syria is just beyond an olive grove and a field. There's one Turkish border guard and a fence. We are so close to the Syrian side, we could walk there in, what, 10 minutes?

ABU AMAR: Yeah, it's gonna take about 10 minutes, walking.

AMOS: And it looks completely calm.

AMAR: There is no presence for the Syrian military here at all.

AMOS: That's Abu Amar, a rebel who fought in Syria for five weeks. He walked across this field from the Syrian village of Atma, a rebel headquarters. He says much of Syria's northern province of Idlib is now controlled by the rebels.

AMAR: Actually we have a buffer zone now. I mean, it's not declared by the Turkish government, but it is. It's like buffer zone. So people transport arms like freely. The Turks are closing their eyes. We bring our wounded people here, we go back and forth and nobody bothers us at all.

AMOS: In June, Turkey moved anti-aircraft guns here after Syria shot down a Turkish jet over the Mediterranean. The effect has been the creation of a kind of no-fly zone for Syrian army helicopters that were patrolling the border. It's much safer now, for the rebels in northern Syria, and for Syrians who live in border camps.

Refugee camp doesn't quite describe this container city built for 12,000 people. This is Kilis Camp. There are banks, schools, and food markets, paid for and protected by the Turkish government. When many of these Syrians first left the country, their trip was dangerous and long. Now, the picture is much different. The traffic is both ways.

Haj Nasr invites us to his camp home. He says he now goes to northern Syria a couple of time a week.

HAJ NASR: (through translator) We go back to bring families, children.

AMOS: He has become a logistics chief for the rebels in his village delivering supplies. And when government soldiers defect, Haj Nasr gets a call.

NASR: (through translator) We took them to a safe place. They had a bath and they will take some rest and go back to the fight.

AMOS: Mahmoud Mosa, a former headmaster of a school in northern Syria joins the conversation. He says for the past year, it was too dangerous to go back, but then about a month ago, he walked right in. Do you have the idea that he army is getting weaker?

MAHMOUD MOSA: Yes, because I was there. I know that the army is weaker and weaker.

AMOS: Mosa is a teacher not a fighter. He documents atrocities for Western human rights organizations. He hopes there's a time when leaders of the Assad regime will be put on trial. He confirms that the rebels are in control in some northern areas, but that it's not yet time to take his family home.

MOSA: I want my children to stay here, it's safer for them. This camp is for families. But young men can do something inside.

AMOS: The population here is mostly women and children and the classrooms are packed. Turkish teachers guide the lessons.


AMOS: These are all Syrian kids. It's a kindergarten inside the camp. And when they're asked to draw, they draw the things that they've seen from home and it's all scenes of war. Asked where they're from...


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Unintelligible)

AMOS: And these kids named the cities hardest hit by the Syrian Army.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Unintelligible)

AMOS: At the home at the schoolmaster, Mahmoud Mosa, his children watch a Turkish soap opera huddled near a fan to cool the dry summer heat. Mosa says the rebel operation's arms flow and medical care has improved in recent weeks.

MOSA: They are more organized.

AMOS: And the camp has become a rear base for the fight against the regime.

MOSA: They come here to see their children and families every week, every 10 days, and then they go back to Syria.

AMOS: Still, the Syrian army is waging a punishing offensive across the rest of the country, shelling towns and burning houses. The undeclared safe zone in the north remains a limited success. So far, the rebels have been unable to expand the territory under their control. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Antakya, Turkey.

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