Syrians in Turkish border town doubt fighting will soon end

The thousands of Syrians who now call the Turkish border town of Kilis home are praying for a halt to hostilities on Friday, but few actually expect that will happen, the CBC's Derek Stoffel writes.

Population of Kilis more than doubled as refugees sought shelter from hostilities

Airstrikes hit hospitals and schools in Syria

6 years ago
Duration 2:10
Russian-backed government troops intensify their push toward the rebel stronghold of Aleppo

The thousands of Syrians who now call the Turkish border town of Kilis home are praying for a halt to hostilities on Friday, but few actually expect that will happen.

"God willing, the fighting will stop," Ahmed Ahmed told CBC News.

"The United States and Russia could have stopped the fighting but they have done nothing in the last five years. So why should we believe them now?"

Syrian refugees have taken over much of the Karatash neighbourhood of Kilis, which lies about 10 kilometres from the Syrian border.

On Monday, the violence in Syria continued, with missile strikes hitting three hospitals and a school in the northern region of the country. A news agency reported more than 30 wounded Syrians were taken to Kilis State hospital.

Before the war, 80,000 people lived in Kilis. Now, it's population has more than doubled as Syrians have sought shelter there from the war ravaging their country since 2011.

Syrian children wait to return to their country at the Turkish border crossing with Syria in the outskirts of Kilis on Feb. 11, 2016. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Most of the Syrian children living in Kilis do not go to school. Some of the adults work, earning money in the black market economy that flourishes.

Ahmed, 54, worked selling fruits and vegetables in Aleppo before fleeing with his family to Turkey three years ago.

"We all want to go home. This is our hope. But when? Or how? We are skeptical," he said.

World powers, including the United States and Russia, agreed to what they're calling a "cessation of hostilities" inside Syria to begin on Friday.

Syrian children living in Kilis gather with a goat in the Karatash neighbourhood that has become their home. (Derek Stoffel/CBC News)

But the Syrian government and several rebel groups say they will continue the fighting. Forces loyal to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, continue their assault on Aleppo, backed by Russian airstrikes.

'Bombing our forces'

"The Russians have vetoed ... the efforts to bring peace to Syria many times. And now they are bombing our forces," said Zakaria Malahiji, the political director for several moderate Syrian rebel groups backed by the West. "How can we take their proposal seriously?"

Malahiji said fighters aligned in his coalition would consider respecting the call for Friday's truce if it's followed by a credible political process to determine who will lead Syria. The rebels say it's unacceptable that Assad remains in power.

A Turkish man helps a Syrian woman carrying a wounded Syrian girl to a hospital in Kilis, Turkey, on Feb. 15, 2016. An airstrike in the northern Syrian province of Idlib destroyed a makeshift clinic supported by an international aid group on Monday, killing and wounding several people, activists and the group said. (Halit Onur Sandal/Associated Press)

"The Syrian people have the right to decide their leaders," he told CBC News.

For some Syrians, years of fighting have hardened positions on who best represents them.

Mohamed Grash, 21, also wants Assad gone. But the young Sunni Muslim Syrian now living in Kilis wants ISIS to lead the country.

"Now is the time for Syria to become an Islamic country," Grash said. "The regime doesn't represent me and my people. I don't trust anyone but Daesh," he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Fractured country

Grash, who works in a Turkish cellphone shop to help his family put food on the table, said he views the violence carried out by ISIS fighters as "un-Islamic," but he backs the group as it most closely represents his values.

Syrians waiting to return to Syria inquire about the possible opening of the closed border crossing in the outskirts of Kilis, southeastern Turkey, on Feb. 11, 2016. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Support among ordinary Syrians for ISIS shows just how fractured the country has become as Syria's war enters its sixth year next month — and how difficult it will be to piece society back together when the war ends.

But among the Syrians living in Kilis, there's a sense that Friday's truce will fail and the fighting will go on.

"Only God knows when we will be able to go home," said an elderly Syrian woman who lives with her family in a shelter made of concrete blocks covered by a blue tarp. "We must keep on waiting."


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

With files from The Associated Press


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