Syrian troops and tanks target border with Turkey

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The Independent Online

Syrian troops tightened their grip on a restive area near the Turkish border, setting fire to homes and a bakery that was supplying bread to thousands of displaced people, activists said yesterday.

The Turkish government, meanwhile, began providing food for the first time to Syrians across the border who have fled the army campaign.

The Syrian military have set up checkpoints and arrested dozens of people over the past two days in an attempt to staunch the flow into Turkey, as Syria's three-month pro-democracy uprising rages on. Activists reported that Syrian authorities at the border were making it much more difficult for people to cross.

Residents of Bdama said troops on tanks firing machine guns were combing the village in Syria's northern Idlib province and surrounding areas, and several homes were set ablaze in what appeared to be revenge attacks, human rights activist Ammar Qurabi reported.

Another activist, Jamil Saeb, reported that a worker at the Bdama bakery was shot in the stomach as the building was torched by troops, and he was evacuated to Turkey for treatment yesterday morning. The bakery was said to have been the sole source of bread for thousands stuck on the Syrian side of the frontier. The anti-government activists' reports about the continuing crackdown could not be independently verified.

The fighting in the Jisr al-Shughour area in Idlib began nearly two weeks ago and has displaced thousands of people, including 10,100 sheltering in three Turkish refugee camps. An estimated 5,000 more are camped out on the Syrian side of the border, with dwindling resources, trying to remain in Syria, closer to their homes and relatives, avoiding official refugee status that might delay their return.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities said yesterday that Turkey had begun providing food to those on the Syrian side. The local Turkish governor's office said some Syrians were collecting food at the border to take to the stranded families. It said there was no question of Turkish soldiers crossing into Syria.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its president, Jakob Kellenberger, flew to Syria yesterday to discuss the humanitarian situation with Prime Minister Adel Safar and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. Mr Kellenberger has repeatedly urged Syria to allow the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent access to the wounded and detained.

The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as President Bashar al-Assad's forces try to preserve his grip on power.