- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2011

GUVECCI, Turkey — Syrian troops pushed to the Turkish border Thursday in their sweep against a 3-month-old pro-democracy movement, sending panicked refugees, including children, rushing across the frontier to safe havens in Turkey.

The European Union, meanwhile, announced it was slapping new sanctions on the Syrian regime because of the “gravity of the situation,” in which the Syrian opposition says 1,400 people have been killed in a relentless government crackdown.

Syrian soldiers patrolled in military vehicles and on foot around the border village of Khirbet al-Jouz, according to Associated Press journalists who watched their movements from the Turkish side. The Local Coordinating Committees, which track the Syrian protest movement, said residents reported tanks had entered the village and snipers were spotted on rooftops.

Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media, making it nearly impossible to independently confirm the accounts.

More than 11,000 Syrians are housed or seeking shelter in Turkish refugee camps, including 600 who crossed over on Thursday, the Turkish Red Crescent said. The refugees came in a convoy of about 20 minibuses and some rushed on foot across the border, to be met by Turkish soldiers and escorted to nearby camps.

Syrians living in makeshift tents inside Syria near the Turkish border village of Guvecci are seen shortly before Turkey's Red Cresdent distribute free food alongside Turkey-Syria border near the Turkish village of Guvecci in Hatay province, Turkey, on June 22, 2011. (Associated Press)
Syrians living in makeshift tents inside Syria near the Turkish border village ... more >

Some refugees glanced behind them as they crossed into Turkey, as though fearful of being chased.

The deployment was the closest Syrian troops had come to Turkey since the military operation in the area began two weeks ago as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces tried to extinguish any chance the opposition could gain a territorial base for a wider rebellion. The army’s main thrust came against the town of Jisr al-Shughour, where armed anti-government resistance flared in early June.

The army’s drive to the border could raise tensions with the Ankara government, which has grown impatient as Damascus tries to crush the uprising, in its 100th day Thursday.

Turkish troops moved their border positions several hundred feet (meters) back, apparently to avoid the possibility of confrontation with Syrian units, and raised a large red-and-white Turkish flag to mark their location. Patrols were intensified, and a military commander toured the area.

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Syria discussed the refugee situation on their border in a telephone conversation on Thursday, Turkey’s Anatolia news agency reported. No details were released.

In Brussels, the EU said it had expanded its anti-Syrian sanctions list, targeting seven more individuals and four companies, bringing to 34 the number of people and entities faced with an asset freeze and travel ban, including Assad.

The EU also has an embargo on sales of arms and equipment that can be used to suppress demonstrations.

The Syrian regime blames foreign conspirators and thugs for the unrest, but the protesters deny any foreign influence in their pro-democracy movement, during which they say authorities have detained 10,000 people.

On Wednesday, Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, had lashed out at European governments for threatening the new round of sanctions and accused the West of trying to sow chaos and conflict in the Arab nation.

In the government’s latest bid to blunt the widespread demonstrations, a movement inspired by pro-democracy upheavals elsewhere in the Mideast, Moallem also reiterated Assad’s call for national dialogue and spoke of democracy within months — a bold assertion after more than four decades of iron-fisted rule by the Assad family and months of bloody reprisals.

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