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Witnesses: Soldiers shell Syrian border town amid refugee flight

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Casualties were reported along the border
  • Lebanon is going to assess the needs of the refugees
  • Over a two-month period, as many as 850 people died

(CNN) -- The two-month-long tumult across Syria echoed along the Lebanese border on Saturday as the regime's troops shelled a town and hundreds of refugees hustled to safety into Lebanon.

Syrian soldiers on Saturday shelled Tal Kalakh, a town near the Lebanese border, witnesses told CNN.

Injured Syrians were taken to Lebanese hospitals. One man died and his body was returned to Syria in a funeral procession, residents said.

At least four people were being treated in hospitals. One of the injured, a Syrian man in his 20s, was shot and severely wounded, Ayman Abdel Kader, emergency room doctor in Akkar-Rahal hospital in northern Lebanon told CNN.

Interrupted gunfire could be heard into the evening from the Lebanese northern border village of Wadi Khalid across the Syrian border villages.

Ambulances for the Red Cross stood by to transfer the injured to Lebanese hospitals.

About 700 people from Syria fled to the northern Lebanese village of Mkaybleh, the mayor of the village said Saturday. Those fleeing were mostly women and children, said Mahamoud Khazaal, the mayor.

Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said at present, the refugee flow into Lebanon has been "very small" -- about 1,000 people.

She told CNN Saturday that the Syrian refugees are being hosted by people they know in Lebanon, such as friends and relatives.

As such, she said, "there's been no request for humanitarian assistance," but there are contingency plans if needed.

She said the numbers of Syrians who have crossed the border into Turkey are also small, about 250.

Syria hosts about 300,000 refugees from Iraq, where people fled in droves during the Iraq war.

"But so far we have not seen they are trying to leave Syria," she said.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has ordered government officials to assess the needs of the Syrians taking refuge in Lebanese villages.

Demonstrations have rippled across the country since mid-March, and protesters demanding political freedoms have been met by a powerful security crackdown.

A U.N. official said on Friday that reports from non-government organizations suggest that somewhere between 700 and 850 people have been killed since the start of the protests" and "thousands of other people have reportedly been arrested."

Violent clashes after demonstrations on Friday left at least four people dead, a human rights advocate said.

According to Ammar Qurabi, chairman of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, three were killed by gunfire from security forces during those clashes.

The fighting, Qurabi said in a statement, also prevented many people from attending Friday prayers because mosques were surrounded by tanks.

The regime has blamed armed groups for the violence. Minister of Information Adnan Mahmoud said on Friday that 98 soldiers and security forces and 22 police have been killed, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

But the demonstrators, emboldened by the tough crackdown and the mass anti-government rallies in other Arab nations this year, have blamed killings on the government.

President Bashar al-Assad has responded to grievances by lifting the country's 48-year-old state of emergency and abolishing the state security court, both of which were key demands of the demonstrators.

The emergency law permitted the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes. The security court was a special body that prosecuted people regarded as challenging the government.

But protesters have said more needs to be done.

Quoted by SANA, Mahmoud confirmed that a comprehensive national dialogue will be held in various provinces, and that the government is considering the implementation of political, economic and social reforms.

Life has been slowly returning to normal, including the volatile cities of Banias and Daraa, Mahmoud said.

He said army units "began to gradually depart from Banias and surroundings while the army units deployed in Daraa and surroundings are completing the gradual depart to return to their main camps."

Mahmoud said the United Nations and other humanitarian groups want access in Syria to provide humanitarian aid to people in Daraa, but he argued there was no shortage of food and medicine.

"We have informed the U.N. that there was no need for any assistance to Daraa," the minister said.

The Syrian crackdown has drawn condemnation across the world. A demonstration in support of the protesters is planned on Saturday near the United Nations in New York.

CNN's Rima Maktabi, Nada Husseini and Joe Sterling contributed to this report