Fearful Syrians seek refuge in Lebanon

Hundreds of Syrians fleeing a deadly crackdown on two-month-old protests are pouring into Lebanon.

Wadi Khaled: Hundreds of Syrians fleeing a deadly crackdown on two-month-old protests are pouring into Lebanon, some saying they had to wade through rivers and find new routes to avoid gunfire.

"Anyone crossing those rivers is risking their life," said Tarek, a labourer who arrived in Lebanon late on Sunday, when close to 1,000 Syrians crossed the border.

Like many of his compatriots, Tarek said he had had to dodge gunfire by pro-government snipers as he made his way through rugged terrain to reach the north Lebanon region of Wadi Khaled.

He had to leave some of his family behind in his native Tall Kalakh, a Sunni Muslim village near the border that residents say is now under siege by Syrian troops and security agents.

"My brother and father are still back there," he told AFP, declining to give his family name for fear of reprisals.

"They are killing people according to their religious confession," Tarek added.

"Alawite militias are destroying homes, mosques -- mosques. How can they?"

Thousands of mainly Sunni Muslim Syrians have poured into north Lebanon this month using illegal border crossings to escape the violence unleashed on protesters by security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect.

On Monday alone, more than 1,000 people arrived in Dbabiyeh, a village in the Akkar region of north Lebanon, according to attorney Khaled Issa, who has volunteered to help the refugees.

Several people interviewed by AFP said pro-government gunmen had "massacred" two families in cold blood, including all their children.

"On Sunday, we heard that two families were massacred, and there were dead people and injured people in the streets," said one Tall Kalakh resident who arrived in Lebanon overnight.

"The Syrian army is targeting our homes from their tanks and with missiles," added another.

"The wounded lie with the corpses in our streets, and no one dares to move them to hospital," he told AFP, as intermittent gunfire could be heard coming from the Syrian side of the border.

Hala, a young Syrian woman who arrived in Lebanon with her mother, sister and five brothers, recounted the terror of men in black attacking women and children in the streets.

"These are the shabiha (plainclothes militiamen) of Maher al-Assad," the president`s brother, the 19-year-old said.

"I saw them in Tall Kalakh as we were leaving. They were dressed in black and they were shooting women and kids in the streets. I hid behind a wall, but I saw around 50 bodies before fleeing."

In the Lebanese village of Al-Beereh, where hundreds sought refuge early on Monday, one woman said she had witnessed four of her family members die before deciding to flee.

Along with hundreds of others, she and her six young children had to make their way through orchards and find new crossings into Lebanon after routes taken by Syrians fleeing in recent weeks had come under fire by the security forces.

"We had to travel by foot, through rivers and difficult terrain for about an hour and a half and along the way there was shelling," said the woman, who gave her name as Umm Alaa.

"We fled after my cousin and her three children were killed when their home collapsed under them under shelling," she told AFP.

"We haven`t had electricity or water for days, and now they have bombed the bakery."

Between 4,000 and 5,000 other Syrians have entered Lebanon this month, Ahmad Khalaf, who heads the ministry of social affair`s development bureau in Al-Beereh, told AFP.

More than 850 people have been killed in the protests in Syria and at least 8,000 arrested, human rights groups say.