As Syrian forces mass ever nearer to the Turkish border forcing ‘more than a thousand’ refugees to flee north, a witness tells Channel 4 News Assad’s forces are now blocking routes to the border.
Human rights groups say hundreds of soldiers, including elite Shabiha troops, have advanced north and taken the mainly deserted border town of Kirbat al-Jouz, just five hundred metres from the Turkish border.
Activist Rasha Qass Youses from the syrian opposition group LCC – speaking to Channel 4 News from the border – said she had witnessed “30 tanks, and 15 buses with soldiers” enter the town.
We can see that Syrian troops are cutting off routes to the border, and this could potentially mean a major humanitarian crisis, Rasha Youses, activist
She said that the approaching army had prompted “more than a thousand” displaced Syrians who had been hiding in makeshift camps in the area to flee to Turkey.
“Ten thousand people are hiding in the hills, it is a large area so we hope they are safe, but we can see that Syrian troops are cutting off routes to the border, and this could potentially mean a major humanitarian crisis,” Ms Youses said.
“We have also seen snipers position themselves on the top of a hill, they have fired, but we do not know if they have killed,” she added.
Ms Youses said that only the frail and elderly were left in Kirbat al-Jouz, and that Syrian forces had arrested one eighty year old man – Hilal Fateq – along with his wife.
Turkish authorities said 11,000 refugees mainly from the north west province of Idlib are already living in tent cities in the Turkish border province of Hatay, but thousands more are living in makeshift camps on the Syrian side of the border.
The Turkish Red Crescent added that on Wednesday 600 refugees crossed from Syria to escape the latest assault, but the UN’s refugee agency said there had been a “remarkable increase” in the number of refugees since, and will release new figures on Friday.
The exodus started after Syrian forces stormed the north western city of Jisr al-Shughour in early June vowing “firm and forceful” retribution for the killing of 120 troops by “armed terrorist gangs”. Opposition activists say the troops shot were deserting soldiers who refused to fire on protesters.
A number of Turkish troops have reportedly mobilised along the border, but the Turkish government hasn’t yet issued a statement on its position.
Wissam Tarif, the Director of the Syrian human rights group Insan, told Channel 4 News that he believes “the Syrian regime won’t risk anything regional during their domestic problems.”
“Of course Turkey are concerned about the rising number of refugees, but they are not worried about the Syrian army,” Mr Tarif added.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Thursday called on Turkey to review its position, stressing that Ankara had always been a close ally of Damascus.
Meanwhile, several Syrian cities – including Homs and Hama – have declared a general strike after two days of deadly clashes with security forces and supporters of President Bashar al-Assad.
More than 1,300 people are estimated to have been killed in the government crackdown on the popular uprising.