“With Turkey, it’s all talk,” said Abu Alaa, a veteran fighter and former farmer who had crossed into Syria to hustle for fresh supplies of ammunition. His rebel battalion received 4,000 grenades from a Turkish arms dealer last month, but they were quickly used up.
Turkey, however, is deeply involved in the efforts to organize the Syrian opposition, hosting the offices of the umbrella Syrian National Council in Istanbul and acting as gatekeepers at the walled, tented camp housing the leadership of the Free Syrian Army at Apaydin, a pinprick of a village a few miles from the border.
There, Turkish soldiers screen the steady stream of rebel commanders, Arab benefactors and destitute Syrians who show up at its gates to offer money and weapons to the commanders inside or to solicit a share of them. Journalists are not admitted, and the officers have to request permission to leave.
Another indicator of just how closely Turkey has become embroiled in the effort both to help and also control the Syrian influx is on display around the corner from the village, on a small rise topped by a fortified military outpost that was reinforced further after Syria shot down a Turkish jet last month.
Here, an illegal crossing point has been formalized with a small metal gate fixed across a break in the barbed-wire fence. A Turkish officer sits at a kitchen table, writing down the names of those going in and out of the country. His clip pad is topped by a chart of Syrian military insignia, to help identify the ranks of army defectors coming across.
A border bus station
On a recent evening, an ambulance waited for wounded victims and a truck was offloading what appeared to be medical supplies for transportation into Syria.
Minibuses on the Turkish side of the fence were filling up with women and children, while minibuses on the Syrian side filled up with young men, most likely rebel fighters commuting back to Syria after visiting their families in the refugee camps.
The Turkish soldiers at the crossing refused to allow interviews, but rebel fighters elsewhere say they regularly come and go through the checkpoint, the only illegal route into Syria through which Syrians can drive, along a rough dirt track.
This is also the point at which weapons are ferried into Syria, delivered by Turkish military trucks and picked up by fighters on the other side in the dead of night, according to two farmers living nearby who said they have witnessed the activity late at night.
Turkey has repeatedly denied it is arming the rebels and says its efforts to help the Syrian opposition are purely humanitarian.
But at a minimum, Pope said, Turkey is looking the other way.
“Certainly there has been no decision made public that Turkey is arming the rebels, but I don’t think anyone is trying to stop the rebels acquiring weapons, either,” he said.
Whether Turkey could is another question. Because Turkey transports all those coming into Syria through the controlled crossing point to refugee camps, many Syrians still prefer to use the illegal routes.
As the sun set over the village one recent evening, a Turkish soldier strode toward the olive groves from which Syrians usually emerge, waving his hands urgently. Then a shot rang out, to deter those trying to sneak into the country.
An hour later, the soldier was gone. A family of five slipped out of the olive grove and disappeared into the night.