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BEIRUT — Syrians poured across the border Monday to refugee camps in Turkey, fleeing a military crackdown that sent elite forces backed by helicopters and tanks into a northern town that was spinning out of government control.
Troops led by President Bashar Assad’s brother regained control of Jisr al-Shughour Sunday, sending in tanks and helicopter gunships after shelling the town. But residents were still terrified; more than 6,000 Syrians have sought sanctuary in Turkey, nearly all of them in the past few days from Idlib province.
In Altinozu, Turkey, two Syrian refugees gave a bleak picture of life across the frontier.
Turkey’s prime minister has accused the Assad regime of “savagery” but also said he would reach out to the Syrian leader to to help solve the crisis.
Arab governments, which were unusually supportive of NATO intervention in Libya, have been silent in the face of Syria’s crackdown, fearing that the alternative to Assad would be chaos. The country has a potentially explosive sectarian mix and is seen as a regional powerhouse with influence on events in neighboring Israel, Lebanon, 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.
Two of the refugees in Turkey said the military is killing soldiers who refuse orders to fire on protesters.
Another Syrian, who gave his name as Ammar, had a similar allegation, though neither man offered any specifics.
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.
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