ISTANBUL – Hundreds of mostly Turkmen refugees fearing intensifying clashes between Syrian pro-government forces and the opposition in coastal Latakia province have fled to Turkey, footage from Reuters TV showed and Turkmen officials said on Friday.
Around 400 Turkmens left the Syrian village of Yamadi and crossed into Turkey via its Yayladagi border post, according to Izzet Sohta, a regional head of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, an umbrella group for Turkmens in Syria.
Groups of mainly women and children, including babies and the elderly, were brought over the border in buses, Reuters TV footage showed. Relief workers distributed food and water as they disembarked carrying luggage and blankets.
The influx has accelerated since last week, when Rabiya, a key rebel-held town in Latakia province, was captured by Syrian pro-government forces. The displacement occurred as U.N.-backed peace talks, the first for two years, began in Geneva despite a boycott by opposition groups.
President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents say they are more concerned with fending off a Russian-backed military onslaught on his behalf and have insisted on an end to air strikes and sieges of towns before talks can start. Turkey has long supported opposition groups fighting Assad’s forces.
Abdurrahman Mustafa, head of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, said heavy Russian bombardment has almost wiped towns in northern Latakia off the map and said that after the fall of Rabiya more civilians were now at risk.
“Yamadi is under threat now. It is within range of Russian strikes and clashes…,” he told Reuters by telephone from the Turkish capital Ankara.
The recapture of Rabiya has paved the way for an advance up to the border with Turkey by pro-government forces, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said.
The Turkmens are ethnic kin of the Turks and Turkey has been particularly angered by what it says is Russian targeting of them in Syria. It has warned that Russia’s actions in Syria risk exacerbating a refugee crisis soon after it struck a deal with the EU to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.
Several thousand people including Syrian Arabs waiting at the border will be allowed into Turkey in the coming days, local activists said, adding that up to 10,000 people living in and around Yamadi were at risk.
“The situation isn’t good there at all. Russia is hitting very hard. They have destroyed everything,” Muhammed Mustafa, an elderly man among those arriving in Turkey, told Reuters TV.