Thousands of Syrians flee into Turkey to evade crackdown

Some 2,400 refugees cross border in space of 24 hours, prompting Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to call on Syria to act “more decisively” in carrying out reforms.

By REUTERS
June 10, 2011 00:48
3 minute read.
Video capture taken of protests in Homs, Syria

Syria Protest Homs 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Fearing for their lives as President Bashar Assad’s troops deployed in the north of the country, Syrian refugees poured across the border into Turkey throughout Thursday.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said some 2,400 refugees had crossed the border in the space of 24 hours, prompting Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to call on Syria to act “more decisively” in carrying out reforms promised by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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Local residents in northwestern Syria said dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers were amassed outside the town of Jis al-Shughour, where Syrian authorities accused “armed gangs” of killing over 120 state security personnel earlier in the week. Residents said the town had been virtually abandoned out of fear of mass bloodshed in the coming days.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish radio Thursday that “Syria is causing concern for us.” He also vowed that Turkey “will always keep our doors open to our Syrian brothers and sisters,” and said “it’s not possible for us to shut our doors at a time when deadly violence is on the rise [in Syria] and our brothers there are looking for shelter.”

A total foreign-press blackout has made the reality on the ground in Syria virtually impossible to confirm, but rights groups maintain that over 1,100 civilians have been killed in ongoing anti-regime protests that broke out in March. According to Syrian authorities, over 200 state security personnel have been killed in the upheaval.

There have also been growing reports of desertions by Syrian police and army personnel.

On the Facebook page of the anti-regime activist group “The Syrian Revolution,” a video posted on Thursday purports to show a Syrian army lieutenantcolonel accusing the regime of using armed gangs to massacre civilians.

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Syrian opposition groups said Thursday that they were planning another series of “Day of Rage” protests against the regime on Friday.

With international concern growing over Syria’s repression of prodemocracy protests, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal have asked the UN Security Council to condemn Assad. However, veto-holding Russia has said it opposes any such measure.

World powers have shown no appetite for Libya-style military intervention in Syria, which has so far shrugged off sanctions and verbal reprimands.

“Jisr al-Shughour is practically empty. People were not going to sit and be slaughtered like lambs,” said one refugee who crossed into Turkey, giving his name as Mohammad.

“Demonstrations in the villages are still going on. Women and children are carrying flowers and shouting ‘People want the downfall of the regime,’” he said.

Rami Abdulrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 15,000 troops had deployed near Jisr al-Shughour.

Turkey’s Red Crescent set up a camp in a shady valley for Syrian refugees five weeks ago on the grounds of a unused tobacco factory on the outskirts of Yayladagi, a sleepy village of 6,300 where many speak Arabic as a first language and have families scattered on both sides of the border, which snakes its way through verdant green hills.

In the past few days, the population has swelled to the bursting point and the Red Crescent has been building a second camp as hundreds more refugees continue to arrive, collected by scores of mini-buses hurtling through the winding roads. The border itself is marked only with barbed wire and a military road along the Turkish side.

Turkish police barred reporters from the camp, but women could be seen hanging wash while children played between tents and older men wandered around.

Activists say the lack of effective international action to stop the killings has prompted some protesters to consider using weapons to defend themselves. In Jisr al- Shughour people recall a mass killing in 1980, under Hafez Assad. Two years after that, many thousands were killed in the city of Hama, when the elder Assad crushed an armed Islamist revolt.

Speaking of the readiness of some opposition groups to take up arms, one activist who spoke anonymously, said: “This thinking is especially prevalent in Hama.

People are saying we are not going to let them massacre us as they did in 1982.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called on Syria to halt its “assault on its own people” and let a factfinding mission investigate all allegations of killings on both sides.

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