More civilian terror, displacement as regime rockets hit encampment

Hundreds of residents fled rebel-held Jabel Turkman in north Latakia on Saturday after advancing regime forces fired dozens of rockets into camps for displaced civilians, reported London-based pro-opposition al-Arabi al-Jadid.

The rockets hit camps clustered around rebel-controlled Obein, a town on the Latakia-Turkish border in Jabel Turkman where more than 1,500 Syrians fleeing the front lines in Idlib and Latakia lived. Many have been there for three years or more.

An estimated 20 civilians were wounded and dozens of tents destroyed in the ensuing fire, Salim al-Umr, a citizen journalist in northern Latakia who was at the scene, told al-Arabi al-Jadid in the same report.

Despite the Turkish government temporarily opening up the unofficial Kharbat al-Jouz and al-Yamadiya border crossings to more than 1,000 families, another 1,000 residents from the Obein camps are still “sleeping under trees in the freezing cold” at the border as they wait to enter Turkey, Ali Adra, an activist who lives in Obein, tells Syria Direct.

The targeting of an encampment loaded with homeless Syrians unfolds as international talks continue in Geneva. The goal, ostensibly, is to end the Syrian war. For the thousands of civilians stranded in north Latakia whose only shelter, a flimsy piece of canvas, is taken from them in a fiery attack, Geneva has nothing to offer, Ali Adra and Salim al-Umr, the citizen journalist, tell Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

“There were still some who had faith in the negotiations,” says Adra.

“Now, they have lost their trust in everything.”

Ali Adra, an activist from Obein, where there are five camps for displaced Syrians:

Q: How many people from Obein are waiting on the border as of now? Have some of them entered Turkey?

There are still approximately 1,000 individuals sleeping in orchards, waiting to cross into Turkey. The majority of them are women and children. Even a tent has become a dream. The situation is tragic, particularly since most of them rely on aid from humanitarian organizations.

After their tents burned down, they have been left with nothing except the clothes on their backs. They are sleeping under trees in the freezing cold. Some of them entered Turkey on Monday when the border was open, while others opted to return to their destroyed homes [in Idlib]. Now, the border has been closed to those who remain in Syria as they continue to plead to be allowed entry.

 Syrians waiting at the Latakia-Turkish border. Photo courtesy of Radio Fresh

Q: Is this the only border crossing? Why was it closed?

At the Bab al-Hawa border post in the Idlib countryside, you need official [regime] documents. Thus, refugees use the humanitarian border crossings. The Kharbat al-Jouz crossing in Jabal al-Akrad and the al-Yamadiya crossing in Jabel Turkman were opened, but the Kharbat al-Jouz crossing was closed.

Groups are allowed to enter Turkey via the al-Yamadiya crossing daily and they are then placed in refugee camps [on the Turkish side of the border]. But closures and security checks on the Turkish side slow the entry process. The local council [in Latakia] even turned in the camp registries with the names of all of the internally displaced to cooperate with the Turkish side, but our people are still in a difficult position and don’t need this delay.

Q: How do civilians view this most recent attack on the Obein camp in light of the ongoing talks in Geneva?

People are afraid as the regime advances and a large number of them have started evacuating the camps and returning to their villages, fearing regime revenge. The situation has gotten worse and now people just want safety. Now, they have lost their trust in everything.

Salim al-Umr, a citizen journalist who moves between Turkey and rebel-northern Latakia countryside, and witnessed the aftermath of the Obein encampment bombing:

Q: What do you see as the regime’s goal in bombing the Obein camps? How does this affect the Geneva talks?

The regime purposefully carries out provocations to put more pressure on the opposition. Targeting internally displaced Syrians [in Latakia] and bombing al-Moadhamiya were among these. We have gotten use to these sorts of actions. The regime wants the opposition to pull out of the Geneva talks so that it can say that it was the opposition who scuttled them. This is all to strengthen the regime’s position and increase its support.

Q: How have people on the ground reacted to the camp bombing?

People had hope that the bombing would stop just so they could simply live in the camps without bombardment. They are just grasping at straws. But now, they don’t care about anything. They have lost everything; they have nothing left to lose. 

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Samuel Kieke

Samuel Kieke was a 2014-2015 CASA I fellow in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from the University of Texas at Austin in Arabic Language and Literature, Middle Eastern Studies, and International Relations and Global Studies.