A fleeing refugee tells Channel 4 News of "total genocide" and sexual violence allegedly committed by Syrian soldiers in and around the besieged city of Jisr al-Shughour.

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Warning: you may find some of the details in this report distressing.

Syrian troops backed by helicopters and tanks are reported to have rounded up thousands of people and killed a number of civilians in the north western city of Jisr al-Shughour near the Turkish border, according to human rights groups.

One man who escaped from a village five kilometres away from Jisr al-Shughour spoke to Channel 4 News by telephone from the Syrian side of the border and said that forces in and around the city were "shooting any man in sight". He also claimed they had violently raped women.

"They are not sparing anybody, they are raping and torturing young girls and killing them and cutting off their breasts," he said.

The refugee - whose identity Channel 4 News has chosen to protect - refuted official claims that Syrian troops are moving on the Idlib province to quell an uprising by "armed terrorist groups".

Earlier, state televison said army units had "restored security and tranquillity to Jisr al-Shughour" and showed footage of around 12 uniformed soldiers exhumed from a mass grave.

They are not sparing any body, they are raping and torturing young girls and killing them and cutting off their breasts, Jisr al-Shughour refugee

The eyewitness said the troops who were killed in the city last week were soldiers who refused to fire on protesters: "They are talking about massacres and armed gangs to encourage sectarian war," he said.

A 'defiant' unit

Houzon Ibrahim, from the campaign group the Local Coordination Committees, told Channel 4 News that "the only armed gangs there are regime thugs".

But he also claimed that there is one "courageous and defiant" unit of defectors in and around Jisr al-Shughour which is helping civilians flee to the Turkish border.

"There are about 50 soldiers and one officer in Ariha and Maambbl who are trying to help civilians, but they are not resisting the army. They are securing some routes but they are not offering resistance," Ibrahim said from an undisclosed location."

Refugee crisis

Amnesty International's Neil Sammonds, speaking to Channel 4 News outside a Turkish refugee camp in Hayat, said that in addition to 5000 Syrians who've officially escaped into Turkey, a further 10,000 were sheltering in areas near the border, preparing to cross over if the Syrian army advances further into the area.

Syrian state television said that army units have now "taken total control of Jisr al-Shughour and are chasing remnants of the armed terrorist gangs in the woods and mountains."

'Critical point'

Wissam Tariff, the director of the human rights group Insan, told Channel 4 News, that the Assad regime has now reached at a "critical point."

"There is the traditional army trained by Russia, and the Republican divisions trained by Iran. It's impossible that the regime could be sustained by the Republican divisions alone," he said.

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But despite a rising number of defections from the army, Tariff said that he believes it's "unlikely" that members of Assad's regime will defect.

"Remember that this cabinet was appointed after the uprising to supposedly implement reform so at a cabinet level defections are very unlikely, but the opposition are opening their arms to them."

UN action

UN Security Council members debated a draft resolution at the weekend that condemns President Assad's regime but does not call for any military intervention.

Currently, nine members, including Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, plan to vote for it. Russia and China dislike the idea of any council discussion of Syria and have suggested they might use their veto to kill the resolution.

Lebanon, India, Brazil and South Africa have also said they have problems with the text.

Resolutions need nine votes in favour and no vetoes from the five permanent council members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – in order to be passed.