Expat Syrian activists turned away at border

KILIS, Turkey Thu Jan 12, 2012 12:09pm EST

KILIS, Turkey (Reuters) - Syrian border guards turned away a protest convoy of about 150 Syrian expatriates from Europe, North America and the Arab world on Thursday who were trying to enter the country to draw attention to civilians caught up in months of unrest.

The activists, brought together by a campaign on the social networking website Facebook, drove to the border through Turkey, carrying token relief supplies of blankets, medicine and food.

"The Syrian government said no to medical supplies, no to doctors who would go in to treat the wounded, and they said no to food. They said no to everything," Belal Dalati, a 42-year-old Syrian businessman from California told journalists after a delegation from the convoy was denied entry.

The United Nations estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed during a crackdown by the Syrian authorities on an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Syria says it is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists" and 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.

Finding their way blocked at the Oncupinar border crossing about 15 km south of the Turkish town of Kilis, the activists in the "Freedom Convoy to Syria" set up a camp on a muddy basketball pitch to carry on their protest.

Dalati said his cousin had been shot dead in the Syrian town of Zabadina, near the Lebanese border last week.

"We are calling for foreign military intervention, creating a safe zone for people to flee and for a free army to be organized," he added.

On one of the buses driving to the border earlier in the day, people chanted "Damn Assad and damn his son."

"We want to go to Syria to show to the whole world what is happening in Syria," Moayad Skaif, a 30-year-old Syrian journalist from Qatar told Reuters on one of the coaches.

Turkish foreign ministry officials told Reuters the ministry had exchanged information with people in the convoy, without extending official support.

NATO member Turkey shares a 900 km (550 mile) long border with Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has criticised Syria's crackdown, called on former ally Assad to step down and slapped sanctions on Damascus.

(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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