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Middle East

Rebel gains raise hope for Syrian refugees

If Free Syria Army can consolidate and expand border gains it could lead to the establishment of buffer zones.
Last modified: 22 Jul 2012 22:37
A Free Syrian Army soldier at the Bab al-Salam border crossing to Turkey [Reuters]

Early on a Sunday morning the crump of artillery and the crackle of automatic gunfire awoke the refugees and rocked their tented safety.

They had only recently settled here at Kilis, a grim makeshift refugee camp set alongside the Turkish border gate.

The fighting was some distance away on the frontier of their homeland.

But for many it triggered reminders of the trauma they had endured back home.

Nevertheless, they were soon back into the routine of a pretty deprived existence.

On this day there were more protests about their conditions, although fights with Turkish Police broke out. And when we arrived, tear gas cannisters were being fired and some of the refugees had to be taken to hospital.

Within an hour the firing of tear gas subsided only to be replaced by the distant repeated thud of either shells or rockets.

The Free Syrian Army had control of the Bab al-Salam Syrian border post. Its fighters were celebrating on the edge of no man's land only two kilometres away from the refugees, but there was still fighting going on behind them.

Bab al-Salam is the second Syrian frontier post on the Turkish border to fall to the rebels. Bab al-Hawa, 110km away, had already been taken. And Jarablus was also reported to be in FSA control, the third out of five crossing points to fall into rebel hands.

What does it all mean, and will it last?

In the short term, it's a symbolic military success at a time when the superior firepower of Assad's forces is being directed mainly on the cities in a clampdown following last Wednesday's devastating bomb attack on Assad's inner sanctum.

In the longer term, if the FSA manages to consolidate and expand their border gains - and this can by no means be guaranteed - it could lead to the establishment of buffer zones, possibly even safe havens.

The refugees who had an early wake up call on Sunday live in hope.