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Syria and U.N. set up tents for Iraqi refugees

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Abu Kamal, Syria (dpa) - Syrian workers on Saturday were installing tents for Iraqi refugees fleeing the U.S.-led war on their country.

However, after three days of U.S. bombing, Iraqis still had not arrived.

"We are setting up 1,000 tents for now, each taking up to eight people and we will increase the number as needed when the refugees start arriving'', said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Syrian engineer. He was supervising the work in Abu Kamal, 585 kilometres northeast of Damascus.

Al-Dakhil expressed doubt that many refugees would come adding, "The Iraqis do not seem to be to be letting anyone leave the country.''

The camp, which faces the western Iraqi border town of al-Qaim, is one of the three being set up by the government and the U.N. refugee agency, which together could handle thousands of refugees.

Engineers were working to bring electricity and water to the camp. "A medical team including Syrian doctors and nurses will be on hand to provide medical services to the refugees'', said Riyadh al-Mardoud, head of the services directorate in Abu Kamal.

About 60 workers struggled against strong winds, sand and dust Saturday to set up the white tents at Abu Kamal on a stretch of land only 50 metres from the Iraqi border.

A team from the U.N. World Food Programme arrived to assess the services needed.

"We are here to get a clearer idea about the work being done'', said Pierre Saillez from Belgium, logistic coordinator for the agency.

Large numbers of Iraqis have been coming to Syria in cars and buses for the past month. More than half a million Iraqi travellers are thought to be in Syria currently.

Many have rented homes or were staying with friends until the end of war.

Since the start of the bombing campaign Thursday, traffic has been light at the border crossings at Abu Kamal and Tanef, some 300 kilometres northeast of Damascus.

An Iraqi driver who arrived at Abu Kamal Saturday, Makki Qubaysi, 30, denied Iraqi authorities were banning people from leaving the country, saying Iraqis were choosing to stay.

"Iraqis are not afraid. Nobody wants to leave his country, his home'', Qubaysi said, adding he would go back to his home in al-Qaim later Saturday.

Qubaysi and Syrian drivers living in Abu Kamal reported hearing explosions and seeing allied warplanes firing missiles at al-Qaim Friday night. They said a communications centre in the town had been hit causing several explosions.

dpa opc pb AP-NY-03-22-03 0935EST

Copyright (c) 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/22/2003 09:35:57

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