A Syrian refugee walks in the tent compound in Boynuyogun, Turkey, near… (Vadim Ghirda, Associated…)
Reporting from Beirut and Istanbul, Turkey — A fresh wave of refugees poured across Syria's border with Turkey on Monday, fleeing an ongoing military crackdown in the northern city of Jisr Shughur and surrounding areas, according to witnesses and activist accounts.
Turkish authorities said about 1,000 Syrians had crossed the border into Turkey since Sunday, bringing the number of Syrian refugees who have settled in tent camps in the border towns of Yayladagi and Altinozu to nearly 7,000, according to Turkey's semiofficial Anatolia news agency. The refugees, mostly from Idlib province, have fled Syrian President Bashar Assad's violent suppression of a pro-democracy movement inspired by recent "Arab Spring" uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
A 31-year-old Syrian activist in Turkey with the nom de guerre Fadi Mustafa Sufi told The Times in a telephone interview from the Turkish border town of Guvecci on Monday that refugees were arriving with new descriptions of chaos and horror.
"They are seeing a lot of dead bodies in the streets and in the countryside," he said. The security forces "burned crops and other things. They left Jisr Shughur to go to the other villages. They raided one village, Kastan, and opened fire with helicopters."
Video said to have been taken along the Turkish-Syrian border on Sunday shows what appears to be a group of refugees near a tent chanting, "With my soul, blood, I sacrifice myself for you, Jisr," with shelling audible in the background.
Violence appeared to have intensified in areas near Jisr Shughur a day after Syrian troops said they had regained control of the town of 50,000. Syrian government news outlets said Monday that army units were hunting down remaining members of what it called "armed terrorist gangs" in the mountainous area along the border and in the village of Mhambel.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency said the men being sought had been wreaking havoc in Jisr Shughur and elsewhere. Syrian opposition activists disputed the claim.
The activist network Local Coordination Committees in Syria said security forces had entered Mhambel and fired random rounds of live ammunition, killing a 50-year-old woman who was standing on the rooftop of her home and critically wounding her daughter.
Home invasions by security forces and allied militias have also been reported.
The activist network said a large number of Syrian troops and security forces had moved into the besieged area of Jabal Zawiya, also in Idlib province, where families from nearby Mhambel tried to flee. The government forces fired heavy machine guns, raided homes and damaged property, the network said.
Another security operation appeared to be underway in the town of Ariha, about 20 miles east of Jisr Shughur, with snipers firing live ammunition randomly, according to activist accounts.
A witness in the region told The Times that at least 10 people were killed in Ariha on Sunday by security forces and militiamen loyal to Assad. He said the army controlled many of the roadways and had set up checkpoints. Anyone suspected of being a protester is immediately arrested, he said.
Syrian state media said army units were greeted with flowers by residents as they entered Jisr Shughur. Syrian state TV has also broadcast images of what it said was a "mass grave" containing the mutilated corpses of security forces. The official news agency said the bodies found had been beheaded. State television also aired what it described as a confession by a "terrorist" who explained the details of "the massacre committed against the police and security forces."
Syrian activists branded the official narrative as fiction.
On the Al Jazeera news channel, a Syrian political activist commenting on the reports about the mass grave said most of the dead appeared to be wearing military uniforms, which led him to believe that the scene had been "carefully staged so that it may be said that defecting soldiers and armed gangs killed soldiers."
Elsewhere in Syria, about 1,000 people participated in a late-night protest in areas surrounding the city of Dair Alzour, along the Euphrates River, on Sunday. Activists said more than 10 tanks and 30 armored vehicles entered the nearby town of Quriya, where members of the military opened fire on residents who tried to block security forces by setting up barricades and burning tires.
Video posted on the Internet and said to be from the restive central city of Hama showed high school students pouring into the streets in protest after finishing exams Monday.
Special correspondent Sandels reported from Beirut and Times staff writer Daragahi from Istanbul.