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Brutal attack on elderly Syrian refugee in Turkey sparks outrage online

70-year-old Leyla Muhammed was kicked in the face in one of the latest incidents of violence against Syrian refugees in the country
Social media users launched a campaign in solidarity with Muhammed, with hundreds posting images emulating her pain-stricken response (Screengrab/ Twitter)

A brutal assault on an elderly Syrian woman by a Turkish man in Gaziantep has stirred outrage online and reignited discussion over the treatment of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

A video circulating on Tuesday appeared to show 70-year-old Leyla Muhammed sitting on a bench and being approached by a number of Turkish men. One of the men suddenly kicks Muhammed in the face. She is then seen bent over in pain, screaming and covering one eye with her hand.

The suspected attacker was arrested and later identified as 39-year-old Sakir Cakir. 

On social media, activists have emulated Muhammed’s harrowing pose, posting images of themselves covering one eye with their hand, using the hashtags “stand with Leyla”, and "no to racism".

Translation: Syrian activists launch a solidarity campaign with the elderly Syrian woman Leyla Muhammed who was beaten by a young Turkish man in the Gaziantep province

Many are calling on the Turkish government to hold to account those responsible for the attack. 

“What must be implemented is a deterrent law, and the vulnerable should know their rights, and the host country should respect human rights,” one Twitter user wrote.

The attack has also reignited the conversation surrounding Syrian refugees in Turkey. The non-profit Syrian Emergency Task Force, which aims to end violence against Syrian civilians, tweeted the video of the attack, writing "this is part of a growing trend of racism and discrimination against Syrian refugees. Countries must do more to protect refugees."

The mayor of Gaziantep, Davut Gul, visited Leyla in hospital and posted images of their interaction on Twitter, writing, “We stand with the oppressed against the oppressor.”

His tweet also said that the suspected attacker had been arrested.

Turkey currently hosts over 3.7 million Syrians, the largest population of Syrians displaced by the conflict that started in 2011.

Last year, Turkey saw an outbreak of communal violence in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara, as Syrian businesses and refugees were attacked. In August, hundreds of people attacked Syrian refugees after two Syrians were accused of killing a Turkish teenager.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.