Guest post: Syria's violence without borders

Kilis, Turkey — Just as international efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria intensify, the long-running crisis appears to be growing even bloodier. On Monday, the violence spilled over into both Turkey and Lebanon: A Lebanese cameraman was killed while filming from the northern town of Wadi Khaled, while two Syrians were killed and more were wounded when they were fired upon at a refugee camp inside Turkey. Two Turkish nationals attempting to help the fleeing Syrians were also injured in the crossfire.

The clash at the Turkish-Syrian border began when Syrian regime troops launched an offensive in the town of Azaz, on the Syrian side of the border, in the dawn hours of Monday morning. Syrians who lay wounded in the hospital in Kilis said that violence began when Syrian soldiers opened fire on refugees who walked to the border to protest the attack on Azaz.

The camp, which lies about a fifth of a mile from the border, was established to provide aid to the thousands of Syrians who have fled President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown. Over 9,000 refugees are living in the Kilis camp, and more are expected to arrive to alleviate overcrowding in other camps. As we drove from the Turkish province of Hatay to Kilis, five buses filled with Syrian refugees traveled ahead of us, making their way to a new place of supposed refuge.

In Kilis, we walked into a ward where three Syrian men lay sprawled on hospital beds, blood seeping from fresh wounds where bullets had just been removed. "We were watching the attack over the border," explained Betar, a Syrian man who was shot twice in the leg while inside the Kilis refugee camp. As Syrian forces attacked Azaz, refugees across the border in the camp looked on helplessly and began to protest the violence. "When [the Syrian Armed Forces] heard us say ‘Allahu Akbar' they started to shoot at us," he said.

Betar, who lives in the Kilis refugee camp with his family, thinks the Syrian regime is following them into Turkey to kill them. Snipers fired on the camp from less than 500 meters away, noted his friend, who recounted how he picked up bullets from rooms within the camp. Around 21 Syrians have been wounded and three have died, according to wounded Syrians within the Kilis hospital. (Other reports said that two Syrians had died).

Turkish officials, eager to prevent the cross-border violence from spiraling out of control, are limiting access to information for inquiring journalists. Police stopped us while we were interviewing a badly injured Syrian man and directed us to a small room, where we were questioned for two hours. They interrogated our Syrian translator on his opinions of the Assad regime. Two other French-speaking journalists were being questioned as well.

The Kilis refugee camp has become an easy target for Syrian forces, and eye-witnesses within the camp say the Turkish police did not fire back when the attack began. Betar described how Turkish police in the camp fell to the ground to protect themselves, but did not retaliate.

With the end to the conflict nowhere in sight, Syria's refugees have found little comfort in escaping Assad's brutal crackdown. They left Syria in the hope of finding safety and peace, but violence still seems to follow them wherever they go.

Sophia Jones, a former editorial assistant at Foreign Policy, is an Overseas Press Club fellow and freelance journalist based out of Cairo. Erin Banco is a Cairo-based freelance journalist.



Is Mike Wallace the reason Chinese leaders don't give interviews?

Hu Jintao, China's president for the last decade, is the first leader of China since the Empress Dowager Cixi (who died in 1908) to refuse to speak with foreign press. Chiang Kai-Shek gave interviews, Mao Zedong pontificated to Edgar Snow; Deng Xiaoping joked with foreign reporters while expounding on his pragmatic philosophy.  Even Hua Guofeng, Mao's short-lived successor, chatted with a British journalist. China's current premier Wen Jiabao has sat down with CNN's Fareed Zakaria twice for a relatively gentle round of questioning but the top leader, and the other members of China's ruling council the Politburo Standing Committee, have stayed silent. 

More than any other reporter, Mike Wallace, the charmingly aggressive 60 Minutes correspondent who passed away this Saturday at the age of 93, may be the reason for Hu's reticence. A sit-down with Wallace was rarely a pleasant experience for world leaders -- particularly autocrats: he lectured Yassir Arafat on violence, challenged Vladimir Putin on democracy, and suggested to Ayatollah Khomeini that he might be a lunatic and a 'disgrace to Islam.' But his 2000 interview with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin may have played a role in convincing Jiang's successor of the value of keeping his mouth shut. 

In contrast to Hu, Jiang was a flashy (for a Chinese leader) former Shanghai Party secretary, who sang karaoke on state visits and recited the Gettysburg address to foreigners. He told Barbara Walters in 1990 that the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre was "much ado about nothing," and Lally Weymouth in 1998 that "I really don't know what kind of threat China poses" to India.

Wallace's genius was the ability to unblinkingly chastise power. Even during the aired pleasantries, Wallace looks unimpressed with Jiang. During minute 2 of the hour-long interview, aired days before Jiang's 2000 U.S. visit, Wallace tells Jiang "shorter answers, please. More concise" and a touch of panic breaks through Jiang's placid smile.

One of the benefits of China's state-managed media system for its leaders is that journalists cannot embarrass them. Hu comes across far more introverted than Jiang, even during prepared Chinese media interviews. In one netizen conducted interview in 2008 hailed as "startling," Hu answered three questions about his Internet habits. (In case you were wondering, he said "because I'm pretty busy, it's not possible for me to go online every day"). It's a safe way to appear human. 

Jiang had to account for the sins of his administration: Wallace calls him a dictator, criticizes him for cracking down on the banned-in-China spiritual movement Falun Gong, and chides him for his lack of military service. When Jiang waxed about Sino-US relations, Wallace responded that "there's no candor" in his answer.  

Wallace chased Jiang to see if he would admit to admiring the courage of the student who stood down the tank during the student uprising in Tiananmen Square:

Jiang: He was never arrested. I don't know where he is now. Looking at the picture I know he definitely had his own ideas.

Wallace: You have not answered the question, Mr. President. Did a part of Jiang Zemin admire his courage?

Jiang: I know what you are driving at, but what I want to emphasize is that we fully respect every citizen's right to freely express his wishes and desires. But I do not favor any flagrant opposition to government actions during an emergency. The tank stopped and did not run the young man down.

Wallace: I'm not talking about the tank. I'm talking about that man's heart, that man's courage, that man, that lonely man, standing against that.

Jiang refused to answer the question, looking stubbon and weak. Investment banker and China watcher Robert Kuhn in his book How China's Leaders Think wrote that "going one-on-one with Mike Wallace was daring and dangerous but Jiang Zemin's down to earth, open and thoughtful tone scored well." To me, it seems like a lesson to Chinese leaders on the benefits of staying home and keeping quiet.

Jiang also recited lines from the Gettysburg address for Wallace, who used it as a chance to press the president on the autocratic nature of his rule. "Why is it that Americans can elect their national leaders, but you apparently don't trust the Chinese people to elect your national leaders?" Jiang, who Deng Xiaoping appointed with consensus from a small group of elderly party leaders, responded unconvincingly, "I am also an elected leader, though we have a different electoral system."

Explaining power dilutes it. Now Hu is silent.