US accuses Syria of creating humanitarian crisis

Over 4,000 refugees enter Turkey as violence escalates; rights groups say Syrian forces have killed over 1,100 civilians in efforts to suppress protests.

By REUTERS
June 11, 2011 19:45
3 minute read.
Syrian army tanks [illustrative]

Syrian army tanks 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)

 
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The White House on Saturday accused the Syrian government of creating a humanitarian crisis and urged it to halt its crackdown on civilians and give the Red Cross immediate, unfettered access to the country's northern region.

"Syrian leaders have no excuse for denying humanitarian assistance by a neutral body like the ICRC," the White House said. "If Syria's leaders fail to provide this access, they will once again be showing contempt for the dignity of the Syrian people."

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Hundreds of Syrians fled to Turkey on Saturday to escape a military assault to quash a three-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Witnesses said more than 4,000 Syrians have crossed over and up to 10,000 had taken shelter among trees near the border since forces commanded by Assad's brother Maher sent tanks and troops into the northwestern province of Idlib.

They said they feared revenge attacks from security forces for violence in which Syria said 120 troops were killed but which refugees and rights campaigners said resulted from soldiers mutinying following the killings of civilians.

Thousands streamed out of the town of Jisr al-Shughour, on the road between Syria's second city Aleppo and the country's main port of Latakia.

"When the massacre happened in Jisr al-Shughour the army split, or they started fighting each other and blamed it on us," a woman refugee, who refused to give her name, told Turkish news channel NTV.

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Bassam, a tile layer, said: "Tanks are now one kilometer away from Jisr al-Shughour, near a sugar plant, and they are firing shells and machine gunning the town. There are only a few people left. I escaped on my motorcycle through dirt tracks in the hills."

He showed mobile phone camera footage of a dead young man, between 18 and 25 years old, with a bullet wound his leg, and a very large exit wound in his stomach. He lay on a bloody cloth.

Another picture showed a dead young man who had been shot in the head. He said the two were killed just outside Jisr al-Shughour by troops under the command of Maher.

He said the troops burned wheat crops in three villages near Jisr al-Shughour in a scorched earth policy to try to crush the will of people in the strategic hill region, who have been participating in large protests against Assad's autocratic rule.

Other refugees said the troops killed or burned cows and sheep, adding that agricultural land around the village of Sarmaniya to the south of Jisr al-Shughour had been destroyed.

The Syrian official state news agency said that "armed terrorist groups" had burned land in Idlib province as part of a sabotage scheme.

"The Syrian people are telling Bashar al-Assad we don't want you. God burns his heart. He has burnt our land. He made us destitute," the woman refugee told NTV.

Damascus has banned most foreign correspondents from the country, making it difficult to verify accounts of events.

Human rights groups say security forces have killed more than 1,100 Syrian civilians in increasingly bloody efforts to suppress demonstrations calling for Assad's removal, political freedoms and end to corruption and poverty. The protests were inspired by uprisings against other entrenched autocrats in the Arab world .

A senior Turkish diplomat said 4,300 Syrians had crossed the border and that Turkey was prepared for a further influx, though he declined to predict how many might come.

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