Erdogan to Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Your Victory is Not Farإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated a pledge to give shelter to those fleeing a deadly crackdown in neighboring Syria, in his first meeting with Syrian refugees on Sunday.
"You always have a place with us, as long as you want to be here," Erdogan told refugees at the Kilis refugee camp in southern Anatolia, which borders strife-hit Syria.
Turkey is home to some 23,000 refugees who fled the Damascus regime's deadly crackdown. It is also playing host to a large Syrian opposition community including rebels defecting from the army.
Erdogan received a warm welcome from the crowd of Syrians who often interrupted his address by applause. Refugees waved Turkish and Syrian flags, and chanted slogans in favor of the Turkish PM who thanked them in Arabic.
"You are getting stronger each passing day," Erdogan said, adding "your victory is not far."
In his speech delivered under heavy rains and tight security measures, Erdogan openly targeted Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"Bashar is losing blood each passing day," he said. "We are on the side of Syrian people but we are never on the side of the Bashar administration."
Cobra helicopters were flying over the Turkish-Syrian border during the landmark visit of Erdogan who was flanked by several ministers and his wife Emine.
The Kilis refugee camp is Turkey's largest and only prefabricated camp that sits right on the border with Syria and it hosts close to 10,000 Syrians -- more than half of them children.
The camp was target of controversy when ricocheting bullets from crossfire between Syrian troops and rebel forces wounded four Syrians and two Turks in early April. Two of the wounded Syrians later died, witnesses had told Agence France Presse.
After the Syrian shelling, Erdogan said Turkey may consider invoking the NATO alliance's mutual defense treaty to protect its border.
During a stopover in the Gaziantep province shortly before a visit to the refugee camps, Erdogan vowed to keep his country's borders open to those fleeing Assad's crackdown.
"God willing, a new process will begin in Syria ... sooner or later," Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
"Until the will of the people comes to power in Syria, we will continue to defend the rights of our brothers coming from there, and to host and embrace them," he added.
Turkey, once a strong ally of Syria, broke with Damascus after Bashar Assad's regime began cracking down on dissent in mid-March last year.
More than 11,000 people have perished in the violence, activists estimated.