REYHANLI, Turkey -- Syrian towns and villages seeking to survive the extreme deprivations of daily life 22 months into their countrys political crisis are inundating a Turkish charity with requests to send flour, fuel, clothes and blankets across the border into their devastated land.
Arriving by Skype, telephone or email, and often hand-carried, the pleas show the level of despair in rebel-held areas where forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been accused of deliberately bombing bakeries, hospitals and other civilian targets in retaliation for rebel advances.
The requests for help also arrive in person. We need everything, an envoy from the local council of Abu Kamal, a city of 350,000 on the border with Iraq, told a McClatchy reporter last week at the office of the IHH charity. They sent us 50 tons of flour earlier, and also some mattresses and some blankets, but this is not what we need.
The envoy, who identified himself by the nickname Abu Ibrahim, said government aircraft had destroyed four state-owned bakeries last summer, a tactic thats become common in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch and municipal officials.
We need flour, Abu Ibrahim said. Every day we need 10 tons of flour. Like other Syrians in this story, he declined to give his real name to protect his security.
The heads of the local administration councils for 13 villages in the municipality of Hish in central Syria sent a signed petition, seeking aid for the besieged people of Syria to meet the needs of displaced people, to compensate the victims of the regimes war against the civilians as well as help for the families of the dead and the imprisoned, and treatment of the wounded.
The petition named Abdullah Moussa Mansour, who hand-delivered it, as its representative and begged a divine blessing on any charity that would help.
Twenty to 25 such petitions arrive each day, said Ahmet Weis, a Syrian from Aleppo who acts as gatekeeper for the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Turkish charity that achieved fame and notoriety for sending the Mavi Marmara aid ship, which tried to break Israels blockade of Gaza in 2009.
He opened a binder with dozens of handwritten pleas. At the top was that of Walid Yusuf, representing the 17 villages of the Jebel Hashim district, near the city of Hama, which spoke of desperate humanitarian need and asked for help with food items, and medical supplies, if its possible, and especially flour.
The IHH director, Muhammed Ilkay Yorgancioglu, reads and assesses the petitions daily, and after taking into account the Syrian militarys bombing runs that day, decides wholl receive IHH-funneled aid the next day.
Each morning at around 10, staff members depart the IHHs modest villa behind an elementary school on the main street of the border town of Reyhanli and drive to a former cotton warehouse, where they marshal a convoy of trucks already packed with food, blankets, mattresses and sometimes tents. The convoy heads out of town to a meeting point beyond the border on the main road to Aleppo. There, the cargo is offloaded onto vehicles brought by Syrian aid organizations for further distribution. Between 20 and 30 truckloads cross in daily from this and other locations.
One surprising aspect of the cross-border aid program is that about half the money or goods for the transports is paid by private Turkish donors, with the rest coming from foreign donors. The U.N.s World Food Program, which sends its aid in through the government-sanctioned Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is nowhere to be seen here, nor are other International aid groups.