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Free Syrian Army Rebels Take Refuge in Turkey, Funnel Weapons Across Border

September 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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 JUDY WOODRUFF: And we return to the war in Syria, one of the pressing issues facing world leaders at the United Nations this week.

Margaret Warner sat down with Turkey’s foreign minister yesterday in New York to discuss the crisis.

Her report begins with a look at how the conflict has jumped the Turkey-Syria border.

MARGARET WARNER: As civil war engulfs their homeland, thousands more Syrians flee every month, many of them heading north into Turkey.

RAWIYA DIP, Syrian refuge (through translator): They bombarded us with aircraft and mortars when we were in our homes. My family and villagers fled to the Turkish border.

MARGARET WARNER: The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates about 85,000 Syrians are now living in camps inside the Turkish border.

They’re among some 250,000 Syrians who’ve sought refuge in neighboring states; 100,000 arrived in August alone, amid some of the deadliest fighting since the Syrian uprising began 18 months ago.

On the front line of the crisis, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had harsh words this month about the outside world’s response.

PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through translator): Syria is going through a huge humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, as usual, the international community is merely watching the slaughter, massacre and the elimination of Muslims.

MARGARET WARNER: Erdogan also accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of leading a regime of state terrorism.

For months, leaders of the outgunned rebel force, the Free Syrian Army, have sheltered inside Turkey, funneling weapons across the border. But last weekend, they said they’re moving their headquarters back into Syria.

For Turkey, the Syrian conflict also threatens its own internal stability. Tensions are building in Turkey’s Hatay Province, along western Syria. Minority Alawites there have split with the Sunni majority to demonstrate for the Assad regime. And Kurdish rebels in southern Turkey, along the Syrian and Iraq borders, are staging new attacks in their long-running bid for self-rule.

The Turkish military has struck back, and the death toll is rising.