Syrian troops recapture border town used by refugees

Syrian troops recaptured from rebels a border town used by refugees to cross to Jordan, activists said.

Town of Tel Chehab attacked in apparent bid by Syrian government to stem flood of Syrians fleeing to Jordan

Syrian refugee children are helped by Jordanian soldiers after crossing the border (Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press)

Syrian troops recaptured from rebels Thursday a border town used by refugees to cross to Jordan, activists said, an apparent bid by the regime to stem the flood of Syrians fleeing their country's civil war.

Damascus meanwhile accused Cairo of stirring up violence in the country, as Syria lengthens the list of other Arab countries that it blames for its unrest. Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi called this week for Syria's president to step down in an indication of the increasing isolation of Damascus in the Arab world.

In the latest clashes, hundreds of Syrian soldiers backed by 20 tanks assaulted Tel Chehab, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local activist Mohammed Abu Houran said. Rebels fought back but were pushed out.

A Jordanian army officer living just across the border said by telephone that he had heard heavy shelling starting early in the morning, but that it had subsided by midday. "It sounded like the shelling came from tanks and armoured vehicles," said the officer, who cannot be identified under standing army regulations. "God help the Syrian people."

The activists did not have any figures for casualties, but Abu Houran said that at least 2,000 refugees were waiting in the town for the chance to cross the border. Most of them were staying in two schools.

100,000 Syrian refugees

Syrian rebels, who claim to hold over half of the country's territory, had been in control of Tel Chehab for months. Abu Houran said that the town had faced repeated government assaults in the past.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed tanks and trucks full of soldiers passing through the town of Yadouda on their way to nearby Tel Chehab. The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.

The Observatory, which has a network of activists throughout Syria, said troops were raiding homes in Tel Chehab and detaining people. It added that smoke was billowing from parts of the town.

Abou Houran said the government was apparently trying to cut the route for refugees who have been fleeing their country's civil war in increasing numbers. More than 100,000 Syrians left in August alone, the highest over the past 18 months, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.

More than 160,000 Syrian refugees now live in Jordan, and their number is increasing by the thousands every day. About 8,000 live in a newly set up camp on the border, while the rest are scattered across the country.

Activists say nearly 5,000 people were killed in August, the highest monthly total since the crisis began in March last year. Activists say 23,000 have died altogether.

Egypt's Morsi criticized

Also Thursday, Syria's Foreign Ministry harshly attacked Egypt's Morsi, saying his calls  on Wednesday for Syria's President Bashar Assad to step down constitute "blatant interference in Syrian internal affairs and an explicit attack on the Syrian people's right to choose their own future without any foreign interference."

It added that Morsi's remarks were "media provocation that aims to enrage the current violence in Syria" and that he is a "part of the current bloodshed in Syria."

Activists also reported violence in other parts of the country on Thursday, including in the Damascus neighbourhoods of Qadam and Tadamon as well as the suburb of Sayeda Zeinab, just south of the capital. The Observatory said troops shelled some areas in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the capital.

Other clashes and shelling were reported in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, the central regions of Homs and Hama and eastern district of Deir el-Zour on the border with Iraq.