Syrians pour out of protest town as assault threatens
Damascus: Syrians fearful of reprisals poured out of a northern town at the centre of anti-government protests on Wednesday as pressure on President Bashar al-Assad grew at the UN Security Council.
Some of those fleeing the town of Jisr al-Shughur sought sanctuary in neighbouring Turkey after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not turn away Syrian refugees.
About 160 Syrians crossed in two separate waves on Wednesday, bringing to 550 the number taking refuge in Turkey in recent days, a reporter witnessed.
The first group, mostly adult men, crossed through barbed wire at the border near the village of Guvecci in the Mediterranean province of Hatay, following some 120 others who arrived overnight.
A second group of some 100, mostly women and children without injuries, arrived in the afternoon in Karbeyaz village, 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Guvecci, and were then escorted by police to a refugee camp.
The large number of Syrians fleeing the country amid Assad's regime brutal crackdown on protesters is deeply worrying, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.
"There is a meaningful number of Syrians who have crossed the border into Turkey ... and of course this is an area of enormous concern to us," Antonio Guterres told reporters in Stockholm.
Erdogan said earlier on Wednesday that Turkey would keep its door open to Syrians fleeing repression and renewed a call on Assad to introduce democratic reforms.
Syria's anti-government protests erupted in March and more than 1,100 civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed in the ensuing crackdown, human rights groups say.
Damascus blames the unrest on "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.
Syrian state television on Wednesday ran images of "massacres" by "armed terrorist groups" in Jisr al-Shughur which it said had resulted in the deaths of 120 police and troops as it talked up public support for a military assault on the town.
But opposition activists say the deaths resulted from a mutiny by troops who refused orders to crack down on protesters and that convoys of troop reinforcements were heading towards towards Jisr al-Shughur.
Patrols had already reached the nearby village of Urum al-Joz Uram and town of Ariha, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.
Pro-government media insisted the military was making every effort to protect civilians.
"The Syrian army carried out a sensitive operation akin to a surgical procedure, so as to preserve civilian life," the pro-government daily Al-Watan said, adding civilians were being held "hostage by armed groups controlling several places."
But, in a statement issued in London, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria insisted that the opposition to Assad was peaceful.
"We assure international, Arab and national opinion that the Syrian revolution is both peaceful and countrywide," Brotherhood spokesman Zuheir Salem said.
European powers on Wednesday tweaked a resolution presented by Britain and France already distributed to the UN Security Council which has faced strong opposition from Russia and China, diplomats said.
"It has been adapted but it still condemns the violence," Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.
"There are credible reports of a thousand dead and as many as 10,000 detained, and the violence being meted out to peaceful protesters and demonstrators is completely unacceptable," British Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier.
Cameron said the resolution under discussion condemned the repression and demanded accountability and humanitarian access in Syria.
"If anyone votes against that resolution, or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience," he added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Moscow opposed the idea of a Security Council vote condemning Syria's crackdown.
Russia has a naval base at Tartus in Syria, its closest Middle East ally.
China, which is also a veto-wielding permanent member of the Council, has also expressed strong reservations about the draft resolution.