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Syrians pour across the border after crackdown

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[June 13, 2011]  BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrians poured across the border Monday to refugee camps in Turkey, fleeing a military crackdown that sent elite forces backed by helicopters and tanks into a northern town that was spinning out of government control.

Troops led by President Bashar Assad's brother regained control of Jisr al-Shughour Sunday, sending in tanks and helicopter gunships after shelling the town. But residents were still terrified; Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Monday that hundreds of Syrians have crossed over since Sunday.

Turkey, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away, has given sanctuary to more than 6,000 fleeing Syrians, nearly all of them in the past few days from Idlib province.

Turkey's prime minister has accused the Assad regime of "savagery" but also said he would reach out to the Syrian leader to to help solve the crisis.

Arab governments, which were unusually supportive of NATO intervention in Libya, have been silent in the face of Syria's crackdown, fearing that the alternative to Assad would be chaos. The country has a potentially explosive sectarian mix and is seen as a regional powerhouse with influence on events in neighboring Israel, Lebanon, Iraq.

The government's assault of Jisr al-Shughour was the most serious since the uprising against Assad's regime began in mid-March. Assad has made some concessions, but thousands of people demonstrating against his rule -- inspired by protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere -- say they will not stop until he leaves power.

The Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents anti-government protests, said government snipers have killed at least 10 people in the nearby village of Ariha in the past two days.

Syria's government has said 500 members of the security forces have died, including 120 last week in Jisr al-Shughour. More than 1,400 Syrians have died and some 10,000 have been detained in the government crackdown since mid-March, activists say.

On Monday, Syria imposed a travel ban on one of the president's cousins, a move that appeared to be an attempt to show Assad is serious about investigating the bloodshed.

State-run SANA news agency says the ban was imposed on Brig. Gen. Atef Najib, who ran the security department in the southern province of Daraa. The uprising erupted there in mid-March after the arrest of 15 teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti.

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Judge Mohammed Deeb al-Muqatran of the Special Judicial Committee said the travel ban is precautionary in order for Najib to be available for questioning.

Al-Muqatran was quoted as saying on Monday that "no one has immunity, whoever he is."

In an apparent anticipation of more refugees, workers of the Turkish Red Crescent, the equivalent of the Red Cross, began building a fourth tent camp Monday near the border.

On Monday, women in the camp, many of them wearing colorful robes and head scarves, tended to children as refugees tried to dry laundry under a cloudy sky.

Turkish authorities have blocked the media from entering the camps. Turkey appears to be trying to limit the publicity of the crisis. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won a landslide victory in Sunday's general elections, has said he would speak to Assad soon.

[Associated Press; By BASSEM MROUE]

Follow Bassem Mroue at

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Jisr al-Shughour and Selcan Hacaoglu in Altinozu, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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