‘The most dangerous place in the world’: Thousands flee Russian strikes, only to land at closed border point with Turkey

AMMAN: Tens of thousands of civilians fleeing a regime advance that is moving deeper into northern Aleppo are landing at the Bab al-Salama border crossing, which is now closed, stymieing hopes of making it to Turkey amidst Russian bombardments that one fleeing civilian describes as “burning everything in its path.”

“Today we're 70,000 displaced, and people expect there will be up to 150,000 at the Bab al-Salama border soon if the Russian bombings continue” with the regime's ground advance, Mazan al-Halabi, the alias of a north Aleppo resident currently near Bab a-Salama, told Syria Direct Monday.

The Syrian army and its allies made unprecedented gains in the northern Aleppo countryside last week, when it broke the four-year-long rebel siege on the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahraa, approximately 29km southwest of the Bab al-Salama border. The result of these maneuvers is that the regime has cut off supply lines into rebel-held areas of Aleppo city and isolated rebels in the northern countryside.

The regime continues to push north from Nubul and Zahraa, with the Syrian foreign minister saying over the weekend that the army intends to capture the Bab a-Salama crossing with Turkey, one of several along the more than 900km border, but the only one accessible to Syrians in north Aleppo.

There will be “no ceasefire until the Turkish border is secured,” state-owned news agency SANA quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed al-Muallem as saying on Saturday, referring to Bab al-Salama.

Syrians at the Bab a-Salama border crossing last Friday. Photo courtesy of Syria Newsdesk.

The Russian air strikes appear to be clearing out territory as Syrian ground forces move in, with the former “burning everything in its path, including houses and shelters, not distinguishing between [combatants and] women and children,” said Mazen al-Halabi.

The ongoing Russian air raids are so ubiquitous that “the planes have become like birds in the sky,” he added.

Turkish humanitarian organizations are providing food aid to the internally displaced along the Syrian side border and setting up camps, but such assistance “has not covered everyone's needs,” Abu Ahmed al-Halabi, a civilian who fled northern Aleppo, told Syria Direct Monday.

Turkey has kept the Bab al-Salama crossing closed until now, reported Istanbul-based Hurriyet Daily News Monday, adding that Turkish humanitarian groups sent in truckloads of aid for the tens of thousands of Syrians stranded on the border on the same day.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus did not specifically state whether the Bab al-Salama border would open in comments made to CNN Turk Television Monday. “In the end, these people [Syrians] have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings... or we will open our borders,” he said.

With fighting raging around them, civilians say they fear a repeat of the scenario in Obein, a refugee camp in the northern Latakia countryside that was struck with regime rockets earlier this month, said Abdullah al-Agha, a displaced Syrian now camped out near the Bab a-Salama crossing.

“The entire world is helping the Russians kill us,” said al-Agha. “Turkey closed its borders, as did the rest of the countries that refuse to take us in, and America has allowed Russia to bomb us.”

“We're trapped here in the most dangerous place in the world.

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting.

Mohammed Mofeed

Mohammed Mofeed is from Aleppo province. He moved to Jordan to finish his college degree in telecommunication engineering in 2013. Prior to joining Syria Direct, he worked in marketing and became interested in journalism after reading many politicized articles on the Syrian uprising.