Syrian Crackdown Underway Near Turkish Border

Posted June 14th, 2011 at 8:50 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian forces are widening a crackdown on dissenters in a region near the Turkish border, while the number of Syrians crossing into Turkey to flee the unrest continues to swell.

Activists said Tuesday that Syrian troops are pushing into the town of Maaret al-Numan.

Over the past few days, security forces have swept through Jisr al-Shughour and nearby towns, after the government accused “armed groups” in Jisr al-Shughour of killing 120 security personnel.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials say the number of Syrian refugees who have crossed into the country has topped 8,000.

On Monday, refugees reaching Turkey said Syrian forces were combing villages back home and arresting men between the ages of 18 and 40. Others told of a scorched-earth campaign with men in black uniforms pouring gasoline on farmlands.

The wave of arrests followed the assault on Jisr al-Shughour by troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships. Residents say loyalist units led by President Bashar al-Assad's brother, Maher al-Assad, led Sunday's crackdown – which they say was sparked by a mutiny last week when some soldiers refused to shoot protesters and joined the anti-government side.

Syria has banned most foreign journalists, making it difficult to verify accounts of events.

Rights groups say more than 1,300 people have been killed since President Assad launched a crackdown of anti-government dissent in March.