Fearing an assault by armed troops, Syrians in the north-western city of Jisr al-Shughour have fled to neighboring Turkey for safety. About 450 refugees have left the city, crossing the Turkish border 12 miles away.
In response, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised Wednesday that his country will not close its doors to these or future Syrian refugees.
It is out of question for us to shut down the border crossings, Erdogan said at a news conference. The developments in Syria are saddening. We are watching it with great concern.
Erdogan, who has a close relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is urging the Syrian government to begin to negotiate with demonstrators.
We hope that Syria softens its stance toward civilians as soon as possible and makes the steps it is taking for reforms more convincing for civilians, for a transformation, Erdogan added.
The exodus follows fighting in Jisr al-Shughour earlier this week, in which Syrian officials claimed 120 national security forces were killed by armed gangs. However, many present during the attack maintain that the army fired upon demonstrators, prompting a mutiny within the ranks. One eyewitness told The Independent that the army then turned its helicopters on the defecting soldiers.
Many in Jisr al-Shughour fear further action from Syrian security forces, and those who have stayed in the city have built roadblocks out of trees, rocks and burning tires.
Among those who fled the city today were a reported 30 who were wounded in the initial skirmish. According to Turkish authorities, all 30 are receiving medical treatment while the remaining refugees are being sheltered in a camp near the town of Yayladagi.
The attack in Jisr al-Shughour is the latest event in a string of escalating violence in the country. Last weekend, the Syrian government sent tanks and helicopters to disperse protestors in the cities of Hama and Jisr al-Shughour.
Protests in the Arab Republic began on January 26, 2011. Sources say that more than 1200 people have died since violence began in March.