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Syrian refugees stranded on Turkish border

By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
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Brutal crackdown in Syria
  • Refugees from fighting in Syria are stranded near the Turkish border
  • One activist says there are about 500 people in the area
  • A growing number of Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey over the past month

Istanbul (CNN) -- Hundreds of Syrian refugees were camping in the countryside Tuesday night, stranded a few hundreds yards away from the Turkish border after fleeing violence in the Syrian town of Jisr Al-Shugur.

One of them, a woman named Um Ahmed, said she and her daughters have been stuck there for days.

"The Syrian regime is saying that we asked the army to come (to Jisr Al-Shugur)," she said, speaking to CNN by mobile phone. "We didn't ask the army to come because all they do is kill us. Jisr Al-Shugur is a city of ghosts now."

Ahmed said she handed out flowers to protesters at anti-government demonstrations that were later attacked by Syrian security forces.

Syrian border city plays pivotal role in conflict

"I saw many dead young men," she said. "One man died in front of my eyes. He was shot in the neck."

Activist Fadi Mustafa Soufi spoke to CNN from the border region by Skype, showing the Turkish border barely 100 yards away on his laptop camera.

"There are around 500 people here," he said, as the sun set behind the hills behind him. "A lot of people are coming to this area because it's the only unofficial gate to Turkey. And they are all sitting in front of the border waiting for the military."

Soufi said he had spoken with Turkish police and soldiers, as well as a mukhtar (mayor) from the Turkish border village of Guvecci. Some of the would-be refugees had been there for days without fuel or food, aside from what had been smuggled to them from sympathetic Turkish villagers.

Turkish television showed video, filmed from at least a kilometer away, of civilians wandering the hills and orchards on the Syrian side of the border carrying flags -- some white, others the Syrian flag.

On Monday, Syrian State TV reported at least 82 security forces were massacred by "armed gangs" in Jisr Al-Shugur, a Syrian border town located just a few dozen kilometers from Turkey.

"The armed attacks targeted public and private buildings in various regions and lately there were similar attacks in Jisr Al-Shugur," Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Chaar said in a short statement on state television. "The state will deal with sternness and force within the law and we will not remain silent when it comes to any armed attack."

But residents of Jisr Al-Shugur disputed these claims. The activist, Fadi Mustafa Soufi, said fighting broke out between Syrian security forces during the June 4 funeral of a local man named Basil al Masri, who he claimed had been tortured to death. Soufi said snipers at a post office opened fire at demonstrators at al Masri's funeral as they chanted "down with (Syrian President) Bashar Al-Assad."

"The people got so angry because more people were getting killed," Soufi said. "Then the people heard shooting inside the building between the policemen themselves."

Soufi and Um Ahmed said thousands of residents of Jisr Al-Shugur have since fled the town fearing government reprisals.

A growing number of Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey over the past month and a half, raising fears of the possibility of a refugee exodus.

In late April, around 250 Syrian civilians fled across the border to the same Turkish village of Guvecci. Since then, they have been housed in tents and fed by the Turkish Red Crescent at an old tobacco factory. Turkish authorities have denied journalists permission to speak with the refugees. They also have forbidden refugees from leaving the compound.

The number of refugees has slowly swelled as the violence has grown worse in Syria.

Local Turkish officials speaking on condition of anonymity told CNN 41 Syrians crossed the border on Saturday. Several of them were wounded.

A doctor, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN that more than 30 Syrians with gunshot and shrapnel wounds had been treated at a local hospital in recent days.

Meanwhile, Soufi, the activist from Jisr Al-Shugur, said he saw the bodies of two seriously wounded Syrian men, who died while being transported in cars to the Turkish border.

In the past, the Turkish government has made a show of evacuating civilian victims of violence in Iraq and Libya. But Ankara has taken a far more discrete approach with dozens of wounded civilians fleeing Syria.

Turkey spent the last decade promoting cozy relations and lucrative economic ties with Syria's young president Al-Assad.

The United Nations reports more than 1,000 people have been killed during anti-regime protests in Syria in less than three months. Over the last month, the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began calling for reform in Damascus, in a bid to curb the escalating violence.

CNN's Saad Abedine in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and journalist Rasha Qass Yousef contributed to this report.

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