Witnesses describe horror of Syrian crackdown

Syrian refugees are seen in a tent compound in Boynuyogun, Turkey, near the Syrian border, June 13, 2011.
Syrian refugees are seen in a tent compound in Boynuyogun, Turkey, near the Syrian border, June 13, 2011.
AP Photo/Selcan Hacaoglu

Syrian refugees have streaming across the border into Turkey in recent days to escape the crackdown by President Bashar Assad. An uprising against his family's 40-year rule began in March, and over the weekend he sent tanks and helicopters against civilians in a town in the northwest.

Foreign journalists are banned from Syria, but CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer managed to get one of our cameras into the country to find a family trying to save itself.

The only evidence the assault on the rebellious town of Jisr al-Shughour is over are pictures of the victorious aftermath from Syrian state television.

State television also showed troops uncovering what they said was a mass grave filled with men who were killed last week by what Assad had described as "armed gangs."

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Townspeople say, however, the dead are actually soldiers shot by the military when they refused to fire on civilians.

It's impossible to know, but Mazen al Zain embodies one reason to believe the locals. While holding his military ID, he told CBS News he had deserted, and that the mutiny is spreading.

Witnesses say that hundreds, maybe thousands of frightened families are hiding there under trees and in the fields, close enough to Turkey to make a dash to safety if they need to, but what they really want is for the Syrian military to withdraw so they can go home.

Mustafa Daas is one of a handful of young men who have figured out how to slip past the Turkish military patrols. CBS News gave him a small camera and asked that he go back to the Syria side and film the huge makeshift campground that's sprung up.

Personally, Mustafa's just grateful to be alive. Last Friday, at an anti-government protest, soldiers opened fire. Panicked, and trying to help the wounded, Mustafa tried his best to gather proof of the shooting on his cell phone before escaping to Turkey.

Now he worries about what he left behind.

"I hear the soldiers are bulldozing our homes and burning our fields," Mustafa said.

As Syrian men, shot by their own military, take up precious hospital beds and refugee camps fill up as fast as they are built, Turkey's government has joined the international condemnation of Syria.

While the voice of the influential Turkish government is a welcome addition for many to the chorus of condemnations against Assad's regime, there's no sign yet it's having any effect.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."