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Fighting In Syria Border Towns Continues

Weekend Edition host Scott Simon talks to NPR's Deborah Amos, reporting from the Syrian town of Atma near the Turkish border. Atma has been under rebel control for some weeks and activists and the town's residents are beginning to come to grip with local governance issues.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Communication from Syria has always been haphazard. This week, it got a little worse. The Syrian government, battling to put down the yearlong popular uprising there, shut down that nation's Internet on Thursday. Now, we're following reports that service has been restored in parts of the country. We reached NPR's Deborah Amos is in the Syrian town of Atma, right across the border from Turkey.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: This camp is about 13,000 people and to be actually accurate, these people are displaced. They are on the Syrian side of the border and they are caught in the middle between Turkey and Syria. This is part of the disputed area of Syria where the rebels are in charge. So here, there is no international aid. This is all done by private aid organizations who come with blankets and food. It is in very short supply.

There is a lot of kids here, as you can probably hear. We were in a tent today. They're trying to set up a kitchen to feed people and we ran into an American, a man named Walid Haffez(ph). He is a real estate manager from Maryland and he collected money. He's a Syrian-American and he came here to try to help and this is what he had to say.

WALID HAFFEZ: I give them some blankets myself and I went tent to tent and you would find, for example, a tent of 10 people and they have three or four blankets. Mother and eight children and they have maybe two blankets, two mattresses; that's it.

AMOS: That's Walid Haffez. He's from Maryland. What we have here, Scott, is a humanitarian disaster. The winter is coming. It is very cold here at night and people do not have adequate supplies. The international community has not crossed the border yet to help out in these places. This is not the only place that I've seen it. A few days ago, we were in a town called Jarabulus and there, there are 22,000 people who are displaced, living in schools, cold places with not enough food.

SIMON: Deborah, on the Syrian side of the border you're seeing displaced people. Is there a contrast between that and refugee camps on the Turkish side?

AMOS: That is five-star compared to what we are seeing here. But those Turkish camps are now completely full. There's about 130,000 that are registered in the Turkish camps. They are getting international aid. We had a visit last week from the head of USAID. They've just opened a new program in one of those camps with vouchers for food. And you see that on the Turkish side.

The Turks themselves have spent something like $300 million to take care of the displaced. But this is a new situation on the Syrian side of the border. All across the north, the rebels have taken towns and the regime has withdrawn. And so it is up to the rebels and the civilians who are forming fledgling governments here, to handle this problem.

They are completely overwhelmed by it. They need so much help and there's really nothing much that's being done yet. There are plans. There are talks. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey said they were trying to find a way to move aid across the border, but it hasn't happened yet and we are in a big hurry here and that is because of the cold.

SIMON: NPR's Deborah Amos, reporting from the Syrian town of Atma.

At the time we spoke with her the Internet was down in the country. There are now reports that it' back up in certain areas. She told us communication troubles are not new for the opposition.

AMOS: Both the activists and the rebels have satellite phones. They planned for this moment. And in some of these wrested towns and certainly in the towns and certainly in the towns that the rebels have taken, they have not had Internet for quite some time. Some of that equipment has been supplied by the U.S. government. On the activist side, some 2,000 satellite phones have been sent in.

And so we are able to talk to them. The rebel commanders are able to coordinate the battle that is going on further south also through satellites. It's the civilians in the towns who are frightened by this complete cutoff and certainly their relatives outside. I talked to a man in New York who called me here in Antakya. He has a mother in Aleppo.

She died and she's in the hospital and now his 82-year-old father is crossing the border today to bury his mother. There's no way for him to call in to Aleppo to find out is it safe, what is the best way for me to get there. It's those kind of situations that are dire for people when

SIMON: That's NPR's Deborah Amos. We reached her earlier in Atma, Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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