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Hundreds of Syrian refugees cross into Turkey

From Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
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Hundreds flee Syria
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Syrian refugees fleeing violence sit on the border with Turkey
  • Refugees from Jisr Al-Shugur says tens of thousands have fled
  • More than 400 Syrian refugees crossed in the past day into Turkey, news agency says

Guvecci, Turkey (CNN) -- About 100 Syrian refugees clustered Wednesday, chanting and holding a Syrian flag, next to a border fence with Turkey, watched closely by several Turkish soldiers pacing in front of them.

During the course of the day, more than 400 others crossed into Turkish territory near the village of Karbeyaz, even though this is not an official border gate, the semi-official Anatolia news agency said.

They were housed in a tent city near Yayladagi, along the border, where nearly 700 people were sheltered in 100 tents, the agency said.

Many of the refugees are from the Syrian border town of Jisr Al-Shugur, from which they say tens of thousands of residents have fled over the past week after scores of people were killed in fighting.

Syrian refugees flee into Turkey
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The Syrian government said more than 80 security forces were killed in an ambush by "armed groups" in Jisr Al-Shugur. But residents of the town say those people died after fighting broke out among Syrian soldiers, some of whom mutinied after Syrian troops fired on anti-government demonstrators at the funeral of a slain protester.

"My friend was shot next to me when we were at a funeral for a martyr," said one Syrian refugee, speaking by telephone to CNN from a stand of trees on the Syrian side of the hilly border area. "There is no milk for children, no water" in Jisr Al-Shugur, he said. "They poisoned the water and there is no more bread."

The refugee, who asked not to be identified, said he did not plan to flee into Turkey unless Syrian troops threatened him and his family at this makeshift frontier haven.

Activist Fadi Mustafa Soufi, speaking via Skype with CNN from the cluster of refugees along the frontier, said shortly after noon that two women wounded in fighting in Jisr Al-Shugur had arrived in a vehicle. "One woman was shot in the face, but she's not dead yet," Soufi said.

Several dozen soldiers who had defected and changed into civilian clothes were among the refugees, Soufi said.

On Tuesday night, a refugee woman named Um Ahmed told CNN she had fled to the border with her daughters to escape what she expected would be a Syrian government attack on Jisr Al-Shugur.

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

In late April, about 250 Syrian civilians fled across the border to the Turkish village of Guvecci. There, 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 and have refused to allow the refugees to leave the compound.

Turkish officials speaking on condition of anonymity told CNN that 41 Syrians -- several of them wounded -- crossed the border Saturday.

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 hospital in Turkey in recent days.

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

In the past, the Turkish government has made a show of evacuating wounded civilians from Iraq and Libya. But Ankara has taken a different approach with dozens of wounded civilians fleeing Syria.

Turkey fears a repeat of the 1991 exodus of large numbers of Kurdish refugees from Northern Iraq. Ankara has also spent the past decade promoting cozy relations and lucrative economic ties with Syria's 45-year-old president, Bashar 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 past month, the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has begun calling for reform in Damascus in a bid to curb the escalating violence.

"It is out of (the) question that we close the border at this point. The developments in Syria are saddening. We are watching in worry," Erdogan said Wednesday.

"We hope that Syria changes its attitude towards the civilians to a more tolerant one and realizes its steps for reform in a more convincing way for the civilians."

Erdogan has been furiously campaigning ahead of Turkish parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on June 12.

Journalist Rasha Qass Yousef contributed to this report.

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