Turkish border guards Friday fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Syrian protesters demanding Ankara help stop a deadly Damascus regime offensive in northwestern Syria, an AFP reporter said.
The demonstration, on the Syrian side of the border, came shortly before Damascus’ ally Russia announced a ceasefire for the Idlib region of some three million people, to take effect from Saturday morning.
Russia-backed regime forces have been pressing an offensive against Idlib despite a deal with rebel backer Turkey in September last year to protect the region.
The AFP reporter said Turkish border guards shot into the air and fired tear gas at the protesters after they tried to storm the frontier post.
Mohammed al-Amouri, 53, said he was attending the protest at the Bab al-Hawa crossing to demand Turkey keep its promises to prevent a full-scale assault on the Idlib region.
“This is a warning to Turkey that we are coming to Turkey and to Europe if it doesn’t do anything,” he told AFP.
“These civilians can’t take it anymore,” he said.
Osama Zahra, a married father of two, said he was out to protest against what he called an “international crime” against his people.
“We just want them to look at our situation,” the humanitarian worker said.
Turkish media did not immediately report the protest but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara warned of a new influx of Syrian refugees into his country.
“They are pressing north. They are coming towards us,” he said in televised comments to reporters.
Syrian regime and Russian bombardment on the jihadist-run bastion has killed more than 950 people since late April and caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes — many seeking shelter along the Turkish border.
Turkey hosts the most Syrian refugees in the world at 3.6 million, and analysts say Ankara fears a full-on assault on Idlib would send tens of thousands more across its border.
In recent weeks, rights groups have decried reports of hundreds of refugees being deported back into Syria as part of a crackdown on those without the right residency papers.
Turkey’s government has flatly denied the reports, saying anyone returning to Syria — nearly 350,000 since the war began — has done so voluntarily.
Last year’s Russian-Turkish deal sought to set up a buffer zone around Idlib, but was never fully implemented.
Turkish troops were however deployed to 12 monitoring posts around the region, one of which was encircled in a regime advance last week.
Syria‘s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions more since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.