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Syrians flee toward Turkey to escape military assault

Hundreds of Syrians fled to Turkey 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 refugees and rights campaigners said that was the result of soldiers mutinying following the killings of civilians.

The U.S. accused the Syrian government of creating a “humanitarian cri-sis” and called on it to halt its offensive and allow immediate, unfettered access by the International Committee for the Red Cross to help refugees, detainees and the wounded.

Thousands streamed out of the town of Jisr alShughour, on the road between Syria’s second city Aleppo and the country’s main port of Latakia.

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

Bassam, a tile layer, said: “Tanks are now one kilometre away from Jisr alShughour, near a sugar plant, and they are firing shells and machine gunning the town.”

He said the troops burned wheat crops in three villages in a scorched Earth policy to try to crush the will of people who have been participating in large protests against Assad’s autocratic rule.

The Syrian official state news agency said that “armed terrorist groups” had burned land in Idlib province.

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.

Turkey’s Radikal newspaper said Turkey would establish a buffer zone along the 800-kilometre Turkish-Syrian border if migrant flows from Syria exceed 10,000.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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