Syrians pour across Turkish border after crackdown

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The Independent Online

Syrians poured across the border to refugee camps in Turkey today, fleeing a military crackdown that sent troops backed by helicopters and tanks into the northern town that was spinning out of government control.

Soldiers led by President Bashar Assad's brother regained control of Jisr al-Shughour yesterday, sending in tanks and helicopter gunships after shelling the town. But residents were still terrified; Turkey's Foreign Ministry said today that hundreds of Syrians have crossed over.

Turkey, about 12 miles away, has given sanctuary to more than 6,000 fleeing Syrians, nearly all of them in the past few days from Idlib province.

Turkey's prime minister has accused the Assad regime of "savagery" but also said he would reach out to the Syrian leader to to help solve the crisis.

Arab governments, which were unusually supportive of Nato intervention in Libya, have been silent in the face of Syria's crackdown, fearing that the alternative to Assad would be chaos. The country has a potentially explosive sectarian mix and is seen as a regional powerhouse with influence on events in neighbouring Israel, Lebanon, Iraq.

The government's assault of Jisr al-Shughour was the most serious since the uprising against Assad's regime began in mid-March. Assad has made some concessions, but thousands of people demonstrating against his rule - inspired by protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere - say they will not stop until he leaves power.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a group that documents anti-government protests, said government snipers have killed at least 10 people in the nearby village of Ariha in the past two days.

Syria's government has said 500 members of the security forces have died, including 120 last week in Jisr al-Shughour. More than 1,400 Syrians have died and some 10,000 have been detained in the government crackdown since mid-March, activists say.

In an apparent anticipation of more refugees, workers of the Turkish Red Crescent, the equivalent of the Red Cross, began building a fourth tent camp near the border.

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