The Syrian army has reportedly deployed its forces and tanks into the northern town of Jisr al-Shughur, where local residents fear they will be massacred in retaliation for what the government claims was the alleged killing of 120 security officers a few days ago.
The Damascus government, through the auspices of state-controlled TV, claim the troops were sent to restore order and to arrest “armed members” whom they blame for the killings of the security personnel. State TV also alleged that residents of Jisr al-Shughur requested that government troops arrive into their town.
At least 2400 Syrians have already crossed the border into Turkey to escape the oncoming government troops, according to UN and Turkish officials.
One Syrian who fled to Turkey told al-Jazeera that the Syrian government’s claim that Jisr al-Shughur was a haven for armed gangs is false.
All the accusations of residents sheltering gangs are false, he said.
And we never asked the army for help or to enter our city. It is them firing on us.
He also said he saw soldiers shooting at villagers who were trying to flee with machine guns.
They have burned down all the crops in surrounding fields and the villagers are fleeing to the nearby mountain, he said.
Human rights activists that the security forces were themselves killed by government troops after they refused to shoot at civilians.
An Al-Jazeera correspondent at the Turkish border commented:
They [Syrian state TV] are also saying that armed gangs are burning the fields around Jisr al-Shughur. Whoever is doing it, that will provide a smokescreen for whatever is going to happen inside, but there is no question that the crackdown that the Syrian government is planning is going to be immense.”
She added: Some of the [Syrian villages near Turkish border] have nearly emptied of population, people are bracing themselves for some sort of conflict. People have erected barricades where they can. The Syrian military, of course, is very well equipped, very well armed, so some kind of showdown is imminent in this area.”
Meanwhile, Turkey is bracing for the arrival of more Syrians – most of whom are temporarily being sheltered in a camp in the Turkish town of Yayladagi, which is 10 kilometers from the border and only 25 kilometers from Jisr al-Shughur. Yayladagi can hold up to 5,000 people – if more Syrians arrive, another camp will have to be established.
Wounded people have been carried by ambulance to hospitals in the town of Antakya.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said earlier in the week that his country will not close its doors to the Syrians seeking to cross the border.
Erdogan, who previously had been recalcitrant about criticizing Syria, told Turkish media that Syrian troops have committed atrocities” against anti-government demonstrators.
They are not acting in a humane manner. This is savagery, he said in a TV interview.
One Syrian who fled into Turkey told BBC that about 30,000 Syrian soldiers are approaching Jisr al-Shughur, although many have mutinied and are themselves seeking to join the flow of humanity into Turkey.
Troops are gathering to prepare for an attack, another refugee told BBC.
The circumstances there are very difficult. They are killing children and women,