Syrians Continue Fleeing to Turkey, Fearing Crackdown

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 7:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Hundreds more Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey, fleeing an anticipated government assault on the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour as Syrian forces and tanks massed outside the city.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday more than 2,500 civilians have entered his country since the unrest in neighboring Syria began in March. The influx prompted Turkish authorities to set up three camps to handle the crisis.

Residents said thousands more people have escaped to nearby villages just inside the Syrian border and are prepared to cross into Turkey at any time.

The refugees are looking to escape Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's weeks-long crackdown against anti-government protesters. Some said black-clad gunmen opened fire on protesters without warning.

The Syrian government has accused “armed gangs” in the border region of “massacring” 120 security force members in recent days and vowed to take decisive action. But refugees and other residents have described a mutiny among soldiers who either defected or refused to fire on civilians after a pro-democracy rally in Jisr al-Shughour on Friday. They said loyalist military units then attacked the rebellious troops.

Despite the possible military retaliation, the French news agency says pro-democracy activists have again called Friday protests against President Assad.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts are unfolding at the United Nations.

Russia announced Thursday that it opposes a U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning Syria for its crackdown on anti-government protesters. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevick says Syria's unrest does not pose a threat to world peace or security.

He commented a day after European members of the Security Council presented a revised resolution calling for an immediate end to the violence in Syria and for humanitarian access. It also urges Syria's government to enact genuine political reforms.

Separately, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused Syria of trying to “bludgeon its population into submission” with its crackdown on protesters. Navi Pillay said Thursday it is “utterly deplorable” for any government to deploy tanks, artillery and snipers against its people.

Rights groups say at least 1,100 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown against anti-government protests that began in March. More than 10,000 people have been arrested.

Also Thursday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency increased its pressure on Damascus by voting to refer Syria to the United Nations Security Council for covert nuclear activity.

It was the first time the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency referred a country to the Security Council since it sent Iran file there five years ago.

The IAEA's 35-nation board adopted a resolution rebuking Syria for three years of obstructing an agency probe into the Dair Alzour complex bombed by Israel in 2007.

U.S. intelligence reports say the facility – then under construction – was a North Korean-designed reactor intended to produce plutonium for atomic weapons. Syria says it was a non-nuclear complex.

Russia and China voted against the IAEA referral, meaning it could face opposition in the Security Council, where those nations hold veto power.