Syrians flood Turkey border after crackdown

GUVECCI, Turkey - Syrians streamed across the border Monday into neighboring Turkey, finding sanctuary in refugee camps ringed by barbed wire and offering a frightening picture of life back home where a deadly crackdown on dissent is fueling a popular revolt.

Turkey's prime minister has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime of "savagery," but also said he would reach out to the Syrian leader to help solve the crisis. Still, many of the nearly 7,000 refugees in Turkey say they expect their government to inflict only more violence and pain.

Refugees were pouring across the border to flee a crackdown Sunday that sent elite forces backed by helicopters and tanks into Jisr al-Shughour, a northern town that spun out of government control for a week. Troops led by Assad's brother regained control of Jisr al-Shughour on Sunday, and residents ran for their lives.

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In Guvecci, two Syrians gave a bleak picture of life across the frontier.

"There are 7,000 people across the border, more and more women and children are coming toward the barbed wires," said Abu Ali, who left Jisr al-Shughour. "Jisr is finished, it is razed."

Turkey and Syria once nearly went to war, but the two countries have cultivated warm relations in recent years, lifting travel visa requirements for their citizens and promoting business ties.

Turkey and Syria share a 520-mile (850 kilometer) border, which includes several Syrian provinces. Refugees and relatives on both sides appeared to be crossing unimpeded around the village of Guvecci.

Syrian refugees staged open-air noon prayers behind wire fences Monday at the Boynuyogun refugee camp inside Turkey. At another camp in the town of Altinozu, refugee families flashed V for victory signs as police guarded their compound.

Turkish authorities have blocked the media from entering the camps. Turkey appears to be trying to limit the publicity of the crisis even as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won a landslide victory in Sunday's general elections, says he will speak to Assad soon.

Despite their support of NATO intervention in Libya, Arab governments have not responded to Syria's crackdown, fearing the chaos that could follow Assad's fall. The country has a potentially explosive sectarian mix and is seen as a regional powerhouse with influence on events in neighboring Israel, Lebanon and Iraq.

A reported mutiny in Jisr al-Shughour posed one of the most serious threats to the Assad regime since protests against his rule began in mid-March. Assad has made some concessions, but thousands of people demonstrating weekly - inspired by protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere - say they will not stop until he leaves power.

The Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents the protests, said government snipers have killed at least 10 people in the nearby village of Ariha in the past two days.

Syria's government has said 500 members of the security forces have died, including 120 last week in Jisr al-Shughour, although it has denied a mutiny. More than 1,400 Syrians have died and some 10,000 have been detained in the government crackdown since mid-March, activists say.

The Obama administration condemned the Syrian crackdown.

"We understand the Syrian government is instructing its security forces to use tanks and helicopter gunships against Syrian people," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington. "What continues to occur is absolutely revolting, and we condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms."

Two of the refugees in Turkey said the military is killing soldiers who refuse orders to fire on protesters.

"Assad's men are killing anyone within the military, police or others who don't obey their orders blindly," said a man who gave his name as Abu Ali. "They are killing those who want freedom."

Another Syrian, who gave his name as Ammar, had a similar allegation, though neither man offered any specifics.

On Monday, Syria imposed a travel ban on one of the president's cousins, a move that appeared to be an attempt to show Assad is serious about investigating the bloodshed.

State-run SANA news agency says the ban was imposed on Brig. Gen. Atef Najib, who ran the security department in the southern province of Daraa. The uprising erupted there in mid-March after the arrest of 15 teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti.

Judge Mohammed Deeb al-Muqatran of the Special Judicial Committee said the travel ban is precautionary in order for Najib to be available for questioning.

Al-Muqatran was quoted as saying on Monday that "no one has immunity, whoever he is."

In an apparent anticipation of more refugees, workers of the Turkish Red Crescent, the equivalent of the Red Cross, began building a fourth tent camp Monday near the border.

On Monday, women in the camp, many of them wearing colorful robes and head scarves, tended to children as refugees tried to dry laundry under a cloudy sky.

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