By Osman Orsal
It was early on Wednesday morning when I arrived at Hacipasa, a village just across the border from Syria in Turkey’s southern Hatay province. Set among rolling hills lined with olive trees, the village sits right across from the Syrian town of Azmarin, where heavy clashes had been taking place between Syrian government forces and rebels. The army had been shelling Azmarin and I was taking pictures of the shells landing in and around the town which sent plumes of dust and smoke rising above the town.
As the fighting intensified throughout the morning, villagers from Hacipasa told me Syrians were starting to flee across the Orontes river in the valley below me, some of them wounded. The river forms a natural frontier between Turkey and Syria along this part of the border.
Grabbing my cameras, I jumped into the car with a Reuters reporter and drove quickly down the narrow dirt road to the river to where the refugees were. As we neared the river the sound of the shelling became louder and louder. We could not drive our car right up to the river as villagers from Hacipasa had already moved dozens of cars and minibuses down the narrow track to help ferry the people away.
I jumped out of the car and a young man with a motorcycle came riding up and told me to jump on the back. So I slung both cameras around my neck and jumped on as he took me to the river crossing. The river at this point is very narrow, no more than 15 meters wide, and is secluded by low-hanging trees.
GALLERY: A RIVER OUT OF SYRIA
On one side is Turkey and on the other, Syria.
I could see rebel fighters on the other side carrying small children down to the bank, followed by others, mostly women. The rebels had strung two ropes across the river and were using them to pull two small metal boats back and forth to carry the fleeing people.