Thousands of Syrians flee into Turkey to evade crackdown

More than 1,700 Syrians flee restive town Jisr al-Shughour in 24 hours; Turkey offers refuge but Erdogan says Syrian fighting "causing concern for us."

Syria Protest Homs 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Syria Protest Homs 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
AMMAN - More than 1,700 Syrians have fled to Turkey to escape a feared army crackdown, officials said on Thursday, in another sign that President Bashar Assad's struggle with protesters is disturbing Syria's neighbors.
With international concern growing over Syria's repression of pro-democracy 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 council measure. World powers have shown no appetite for any Libya-style military intervention in Syria, which has so far shrugged off sanctions and verbal reprimands.
Residents in the area said about 40 tanks and troop carriers had deployed about 7 km (4 miles) from Jisr al-Shughour, a northwestern town of 50,000 where authorities say "armed gangs" killed more than 120 security personnel earlier this week.
Other accounts speak of a mutiny among troops who refused to fire on civilians after a pro-democracy rally in the town on Friday. Loyalist military units then attacked the mutineers.
Syria has barred most independent media from the country, making it difficult to verify accounts of the violence.
"Jisr al-Shughour is practically empty. People were not going to sit and be slaughtered like lambs," said one refugee who had crossed into Turkey, who gave 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.
Turkish officials said the number of Syrian refugees crossing the border this week had reached 1,777, the Anatolian news agency reported. The refugees are being housed in a tented encampment just north of the border at Yayladagi.
Thousands more people from Jisr al-Shughour have fled to villages on the Syrian side of the border, residents say.
Turkey concerned over Syrian violence
"Syria is causing concern for us," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Turkish radio. "We will always keep our doors open to our Syrian brothers and sisters."
"Syria is committed to the missions of reform under the leadership of President Bashar Assad and affirms it does not permit any foreign intervention in this regard," the state news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying in response to critical statements by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
Among the Syrians in Turkey was a 23-year-old with a bullet wound to the leg. Asking not to be named, he said militiamen, known as shabbiha, from Assad's minority Alawite sect that has dominated the Sunni majority for four decades, had shot him. "We were leaving the mosque after Friday prayers to start protesting and then the shabbiha ... attacked us," he said.
Turkish police barred reporters from the camp in a shady valley, but women could be seen hanging washing, while children played between tents and older men wandered around.
The draft UN resolution proposed by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal condemns the repression and demands humanitarian access. "The world cannot be silent when every day people in Syria, who are doing nothing but standing up for their legitimate human and civil rights, are being killed and tortured," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.
Rights groups say more than 1,100 civilians have been killed since March in protests against 41 years of Assad family rule.
Syrian authorities say more than 200 security personnel have also been killed in the unrest.