UPDATE: 1330 GMT, FEB 18: Turkey has closed the border crossing at Bab al-Hawa, as tension continues with gun-runners inside the refugee camp.
After Turkish complaints over the armed men, the Islamic Front sought at the weekend to move displaced Syrians to a new camp, but met resistance — in ensuring clashes, reports circulated of several fatalities.
A well-placed EA sources says many refugees have now left Bab al-Hawa for Harem and Salqin, but the Islamic Front cannot use force to close the camp, because of of children, women, and elderly who are staying alongside the armed men.
A source says the Turks may allow emergency supplies into the facilities but will no tolerate armed attacks as part of “normal business” at Bab al-Hawa.
Sources defend the Islamic Front’s handling of the situation and foresees a resolution:
The Front’s personnel did a great job handling this without much bloodshed. They applied the right mixture of carrots and sticks to the various sorts of people settling near the terminal. After more and more peaceful refugees left towards Harem and Salqin, the gun runners are realizing their human shield is melting, and will soon give in to their destiny.
On Sunday, chatter spread across social media that the Islamic Front, the leading insurgent bloc, had deliberately killed refugees at a camp near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey.
Well-placed EA sources inside Syria, checking the claims, found a story beyond the “massacre” of clashes between insurgents, gun-runners, and Turkish forces.
A correspondent summarizes:
In the refugee camp in the crossing are many weapon dealers. The camp is full of arms, from rifles up to anti-aircraft guns.
These “refugees” sometimes attack Turkish soldiers, as well as Islamic Front guards. After one recent incident, Turkey closed the Bab al- Hawa crossing.
Turkish authorities demanded that the refugees — especially those with arms — must leave Bab al-Hawa. The Islamic Front built a new camp outside the crossing and asked people to move there.
A source close to the Islamic Front asserts, “Many of them refused and started chanting for Assad and came out guns blazing. So there were clashes. A few people were killed. I’m sure some bystanders could have been injured as well.”
The Islamic Front and Free Syrian Army both say they are maintaining the priority of keeping the crossing open for refugees and supplies.
At the same time, the factions want to shift displaced Syrians from Bab al-Hawa to three camps in the area, providing local shuttle buses connecting the camps with Turkey. They claim that they are not only responding to Turkish demands but also moving refugees from the danger of regime air raids and bombings.