Syria Crisis: Rebels Take Control of Several Border Crossings

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman this is The World. Heavy fighting again today in the Syrian capital Damascus; government forces bombarded rebel positions in the city. The Government says it's flushed the rebels from one neighborhood. Opposition activists describe what happened there as a massacre. Clashes and rocket fire were also reported in homes and Aleppo. Meanwhile the United Nations is worried about a new wave of Syrian refugees fleeing to other countries to escape the violence. As many as 30,000 may have crossed into Lebanon during the past 48 hours. At the same time the rebel Free Syrian Army reportedly took control of several border crossings with Iraq and Turkey. We reached the BBC's Wyre Davies at the border crossing between Syria and Turkey.

Wyre Davies: The border itself is pretty quiet and it's difficult to know exactly who is in control. That of course says something, because a border crossing is one of those key installations where governments are usually the ones in control. Now we do know that overnight that this border crossing was in the hands of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel fighters had taken it, but I understand that government soldiers have taken it back. What we're really dealing with right now is an area of Northern Syria where nobody is really in overall total control. What's happened is that the Syrian government has withdrawn a lot of its military units from the periphery, from the border areas back to Damascus, to the capital and other large cities to deal with the crisis in those places. That has left vacuums, holes in many of the border areas which are now undefended and the Free Syrian Army has gone in. But the government has responded tonight with pretty heavy artillery and shell fire and we have spoken to some refugees fleeing Syria tonight who've talked about some pretty intensive shelling.

Werman: Tell us what you heard.

Davies: One guy I spoke to said that quite specifically it was heavy artillery and shell fire, not just small arms fire and the town they came from was being shelled from a distance. A man I spoke to, none of these people ever give you their names because they're worried about reprisals, but one man I spoke to said that one of his neighbors had lost five members of his family. That's why he had decided to flee with his extended family, about 4 women and 3 children in the back of a vehicle just fleeing into Turkey. The United Nations refugee agency today said that hundreds of thousands of refugees have now fled Syria; 30,000 into Lebanon in the last couple of days, about 100,000 are here in Turkey, another 100,000 in Jordan, and some also in Iraq. Almost every one of Syria's neighbors now is being forced to take refugees because of the ferocity of the fighting there.

Werman: So with the mixed control of these border areas, mixed between the Free Syrian Army and Syria's own army from Damascus, what's that going to do for Syrians looking to escape?

Davies: That's why this border crossing itself I think is particularly quiet in comparison to other border crossings, because it's simply too dangerous for some people to make the journey. The main road for example between Aleppo and Latakia, another northern town, is considered now to be too dangerous to travel on because of explosive devices and attacks by both sides. That is the reality of life in Northern Syria at the minute. Many people are choosing to flee, but more people are staying in their homes because it is actually too dangerous to go out.

Werman: It wasn't that long ago that Assad's regime was increasing armed presence at the border, is this an indication that Assad is losing control of the region?

Davies: I think so; to be honest I think there are parts of the country now that are beginning to be beyond his control. People make comparisons, I think wrongly often, between the situation in Syria and Libya last year. But this is one thing that may be comparable; if you hark back to Libya one would remember that much of Eastern Libya opened up and allowed the opposition to base itself and to use Eastern Libya as a platform to defeat the regime ultimately in Tripoli. I think that's what the opposition will be looking to do here in Syria now, will be to establish positions in big geographic areas they can claim as ââ?¬Å?free Syriaââ?¬  if you like and from there launch their attacks against the government. Of course the governments is still overwhelmingly superior in a military sense here even though there have been quite defections from the army and it may take some time before Assad is defeated.

Werman: Wrye Davies we'll leave it there, thank you.

Davies: Cheers guys, thank you.