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Turkey says it won’t leave Syrian refugees to die

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Oncupinar (Turkey): Turkey said today it would not abandon thousands of Syrians stranded on its border after fleeing a major Russian-backed regime offensive, as aid agencies warned of a “desperate” situation.

Tens of thousands of people, including many women and children, have been uprooted as pro-government forces backed by intense Russian anti-rebel air strikes advance near Syria’s second city Aleppo.

“Turkey has reached the limit of its capacity to absorb the refugees,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told CNN Turk television. “But in the end, these people have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings… Or we will open our borders.”

“We are not in a position to tell them not to come. If we do, we would be abandoning them to their deaths.”

Turkey’s Oncupinar border crossing, which faces the Bab al-Salama frontier post inside Syria, remained closed today to thousands of refugees gathered there for a third day, an AFP reporter said. They waited desperately for the moment the gate will open, as Turkish aid trucks delivered food inside Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that Turkey was ready to open its gates to Syrian refugees “if necessary”.

Carrying what few belongings they still have, Syrians queued in the cold and rain in squalid camps near the border, waiting for tents being distributed by aid agencies.

Others are reportedly sleeping in the open, in fields and on roads. The medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said camps for displaced people in northern Aleppo province were overwhelmed.

“From what MSF can see the situation in Azaz district is desperate, with ongoing fighting and tens of thousands of people displaced,” said Muskilda Zancada, head of the group’s Syria mission.

“We are still conducting assessments but so far have seen problems with lack of space to accommodate people, and insufficient water and sanitation in many areas.”

It said three MSF-supported hospitals had been bombed in recent days although the extent of the damage was unknown because their proximity to the front lines made access too difficult.

More than 260,000 people have died in Syria’s nearly five- year-old conflict, which involves a tangled web of mainstream rebels, Islamists, jihadists, Kurds and pro-regime forces supported by Russia and Iran.

More than half the population has been displaced and hundreds of thousands have tried to reach Europe, sometimes paying with their lives making the risky Mediterranean Sea crossing.

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