Thousands of Syrian refugees are stuck on the Turkish border while the authorities struggle to process a growing influx that could be swelled further by Syrian air and ground bombardment of a nearby town.
Syrian opposition activists said some 10,000 refugees had been stranded for a week on the Syrian side of the frontier adjacent to the southeastern Turkish province of Kilis, the main route into Turkey from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
A Syrian jet bombed the town of Azaz, three kilometres from the border, early on Monday, prompting some of those who had not already fled to pack their bags, a Reuters witness said.
Azaz is notionally rebel-held but often comes under artillery fire at night from a nearby military airport.
Half the population of around 70,000 has already fled, residents say.
“We haven’t stopped taking the Syrians but we are doing this more slowly due to security concerns ...Some people are entering Turkey then going back and coming back again,” an official from Turkey’s AFAD disaster agency told Reuters.
“We are trying to distribute aid to those on the other side of the border. On Saturday their numbers were around 7,000-8,000,” he said, asking not to be named.
Turkey already hosts more than 80,000 Syrians who have fled the 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar Al Assad and the UN refugee agency says the figure could reach 200,000.
Syrian opposition activists say bottlenecks at the Turkish border are discouraging people under fire from Assad’s forces in Aleppo and elsewhere from fleeing, leaving them in grave danger.
Turkey has repeatedly complained it is not receiving enough international assistance for the refugees and has pushed for the creation of a foreign-protected “safe zone” inside Syria to try to help civilians on the other side of the border.
The plan met with little enthusiasm from world powers at a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday.
Ankara will promote the idea again at the UN General Assembly this month but opposition from veto-wielding Russia and China means there is little chance of securing a Security Council mandate for such action, which would require no-fly zones patrolled by foreign aircraft to be credible.