Thousands of Syrians waited along the border with Turkey on Monday to see what happens next in the tense struggle between the government of President Bashar Assad and rebel forces.
After circling Jisr al-Shughour, a town of about 50,000 people 20 kilometres southeast of the border, for days, Syrian armed forces led by Assad's brother took control Sunday, swooping in with tanks and helicopters to crush an alliance of rebels and mutinous members of the security forces.Jisr al-Shughour, Syria
Turkey's foreign ministry said Monday that hundreds of Syrians have crossed over since Sunday. Turkey has given sanctuary to more than 6,000 fleeing Syrians, nearly all of them in the past few days from Idlib province.
"Thousands of people are coming across the border still, and many of them are just stopping short, in fact, of the frontier," the BBC's Owen Bennett Jones told CBC News Monday from the Syrian-Turkish border.
Fleeing the armed forces, the refugees are coming with their vehicles and their animals, but are reluctant to give those things up.
SPECIAL REPORT: Trouble in Syria
"So they are just staying right by the frontier and waiting to see what happens, Bennett Jones said. "And they say if the Syrian army comes close, then they'll take those final few steps to safety and be in Turkey. They are terrified, many of them, that they'll be killed if they get anywhere near the Syrian security forces."
Reporter sneaks across border
He said their future looks bleak: "The refugees are left contemplating the prospect that they could be in Turkey for a very long time. "
Time magazine reporter Rania Abouzeid said she sneaked across the border into Syria Sunday night and spoke with some of the thousands of Syrians along the border.
"[They said] they didn't see any resistance in the town and that Syrian state media is conveying lies," she told CBC News. "There are about 5,000 Syrian refugees who have legally crossed into Turkey, and they're being housed in three refugee camps that the Turks have set up. The media is not allowed to speak to those Syrians."
Those along the Syrian side of the border want to stay, she said. "They hope that their proximity to the Turkish border will prevent Syrian military from firing on them."
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 neighbouring Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Snipers reported to have killed 10
The government's assault on 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 Co-ordination 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 said 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.
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.
Building another camp
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 colourful 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.
Government forces uncovered mass graves Sunday containing mostly mutilated bodies of 10 security men killed and buried by armed groups in Jisr al-Shughour, Reuters reported, citing the Syrian news agency. State TV showed footage Monday of crowds gathered around the site where forces were digging up bodies.
The Syrian government said last week that "armed gangs" had killed more than 120 of its security personnel after demonstrations in Jisr al-Shughour.