‘Freedom Convoy’ stopped at Turkish-Syrian border

‘Freedom Convoy’ stopped at Turkish-Syrian border

Activists of the Freedom Convoy march with independence flags as they shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a gathering in the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis, Gaziantep province, on Jan. 12, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

January 12, 2012, Thursday/ 15:22:00

Syrian expatriates from Europe, North America and the Arab world riding a “Freedom Convoy” attempted to cross the Turkish-Syrian border near Kilis on Thursday, but were stopped short of the border by Turkish authorities.

Hoping to draw attention to the plight of the people in their strife-torn homeland, the group held a press conference in Kilis shortly before heading to the Öncüpınar border gate. “We told the group that we didn’t have any objections to their bringing aid supplies across the border,” Kilis Deputy Governor Erkan Çapar told the Cihan news agency on Thursday.

The group of 150 activists was later stopped at the border gate by Syrian officials, who refused the group’s request to deliver its token relief supplies of blankets, medicine and food. The gate was also the scene of tension yesterday when five Iranian trucks allegedly carrying “military equipment” to Syria were stopped by authorities.

The UN estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed during a crackdown by the Syrian authorities on an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Syria says it is fighting foreign-backed “terrorists” and 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.

“We want to go to Syria to show to the whole world what is happening in Syria,” said Moayad Skaif, a 30-year-old Syrian journalist from Qatar on one of the “Freedom Convoy to Syria” coaches. “Assad does not want the truth to come out,” he added.

Turkey’s foreign ministry told Reuters on Thursday it had been in touch with people on the convoy but did not say whether Turkey supported the campaign.

NATO member Turkey shares a 900-kilometer-long border (550 miles) with Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has criticized Syria’s crackdown, calling on former ally Assad to step down and slapped sanctions on Damascus. Turkey is also hosting several thousand refugees, including members of the rebel Syrian Free Army, at camps, while the opposition Syrian National Council meets regularly in İstanbul.

The activists told Reuters they intend to set up a camp close to the border to protest the ongoing violence in Syria. Samir Jisri, a computer graphics teacher from Toronto, said he wanted to return to the country he left as an infant.

“The Syrian revolution is an orphaned revolution because nobody is sticking up for it, not even the Arab League,” said Jisri, 35. “The last hope we have is Turkey.”

Belal Dalati, a 42-year-old Syrian businessman from California, said his cousin had been shot dead in the Syrian town of Zabadina, near the Lebanese border last week.

“We are watching people dying, women, children and the elderly, too, are getting killed in this conflict ... just because the regime wants to stay in power,” Dalati said. “We are calling for foreign military intervention, creating a safe zone for people to flee and for a free army to be organized.”

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