- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country will continue to accept the hundreds of Syrian refugees who are fleeing their nation’s violence, but he urged Syria‘s government to adopt reforms aimed at ending the unrest.

As he spoke, NTV television showed live footage of about 40 refugees standing just yards from a border manned by Turkish soldiers and hoping to cross it.

In all, about 500 Syrians recently have arrived in Turkey, mostly women and children, authorities said. About 30 of the refugees who crossed the nations’ 520-mile-long border were wounded during clashes in Syria, the authorities said.

Most of the refugees are fleeing a tense northern town, Jisr al-Shughour, which is about 12 miles from Turkey.

The residents fear a crackdown by their government following a deadly mutiny of Syrian soldiers that set off fighting with officers and security guards. The Syrian government said 120 of its forces were dead and acknowledged losing “intermittent” control of the area.

Large convoys of Syrian tanks and elite troops were reportedly heading to the area Wednesday, raising the prospect of more bloodshed in Syria‘s nationwide crackdown on the pro-democracy revolt against its president, Bashar Assad.

Mr. Erdogan, whose government has close ties with Mr. Assad, said the situation in Syria is of deep concern for Turkey.

“It is out of question for us to shut down the border crossings,” Mr. Erdogan said. “The developments in Syria are saddening. We are watching it with great concern.”

Mr. Erdogan once again urged Mr. Assad to enact reforms to meet the demands of activists protesting there. Syria has defied international calls to stop its brutal crackdown on the unrest, which has left hundreds of people dead since March.

“We hope that Syria softens its stance toward civilians as soon as possible and makes the steps it is taking for reforms more convincing for civilians, for a transformation,” Mr. Erdogan said at a news conference that was nationally televised in Turkey.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said all the refugees are being sheltered in a camp set up by Turkey’s Red Crescent, the equivalent of the Red Cross, in the border town of Yayladagi.

About 30 Syrian refugees have been treated at Turkish hospitals for wounds they suffered in clashes in northern Syria, including one who died, authorities said.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s government said Wednesday that it is prepared to deal with a mass influx of Syrian refugees.

“We have sweeping preparations, but I hope there will be no need for that,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told NTV television.